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This sign advertising Cumberland Bail Bonds is on a fence donated by the company and placed close to the prisoner entrance of the Bradley County Justice Center.
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Cumberland Bonding Order

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A bail bonding company owner is out of business in Marion County, Tenn., until mid-August after his former agent was caught soliciting sex from a client and claimed it was common practice.

"This Court can not and will not condone nor sanction the conduct found to have occurred in this case," 12th Judicial Circuit Judge Thomas W. Graham wrote in his five-page order.

"Professional bail bonding companies hold the potential to abuse the rights and dignity of the poor and desperate and their families and friends. To prey on these people and possibly their family and friends by demanding sexual favors is unconscionable and truly shocks the conscience of the Court."

Judges in the 12th District suspended Cumberland Bail Bonding Co., A Bonding Co. and A+ Bail Bonding in February after Cumberland agent Kelvin Pell was caught in a sting by Marion County Sheriff's Office investigators on Feb. 8.

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They recruited a woman who agreed to wear a wire and get Pell to bond her out of jail. Investigators heard Pell talk to her about paying him with sex and how he'd done the same thing with other women clients. They arrested Pell, naked below the waist, in a motel room they had rented while the woman waited in the bathroom.

The judges were horrified when Pell told arresting officers sex with clients was common practice in the industry. They suspended Cumberland's bonding authority Feb. 15. When they learned Cumberland owner Andy Baggenstoss had two other bonding companies operating in Marion, they suspended those, too, "in order to stop the attempted end run [by Baggenstoss] around the suspension of Cumberland," Graham wrote.

State law says bonding authority may be suspended on a variety of grounds, including professional misconduct. Local court rules also require a bonding company owner to notify the court immediately if an agent is arrested.

Baggenstoss fired Pell right away and asked the court to suspend his bonding authority, but his request did not say Pell had been arrested, Graham pointed out in a Feb. 27 hearing.

"There is no doubt that Agent Pell engaged in unprofessional conduct when he accepted and solicited sexual favors in lieu of premiums," Graham wrote.

He also noted Cumberland's employee guidelines don't say not to have sex with clients.

"The bonding companies owned and operated by Mr. Baggenstoss in Marion County must be sanctioned so that there will be a deterrence against sexual misconduct and a disincentive to allow their agents to engage in conduct such as occurred in this case."

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He said the three companies will be suspended until Aug. 15, and ordered Baggenstoss to ensure all his companies operating in the 12th District "clearly prohibit sexual activity between agents and their clients, their client's spouse or significant others."

Asked for comment Thursday, Baggenstoss said, "I was disappointed in the ruling, however, I have faith in the process."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

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