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Accused could say 'Charge it' and be out on bond

Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

It's not exactly a "Get Out of Jail Free" card, but you may be able to use a credit card soon to bond out of the Cook County Jail.

The plan was set to be approved Tuesday but was delayed at least until next month because of concerns about the long-term financial impact of paying for bonds with high-interest credit cards.

Commissioner Jerry Butler said many of those in jail have families "unsophisticated as it comes to credit card debt" and "a lot of mothers and fathers will run over there and plunk down their credit card . . . and could wind up paying 20 some percent interest" on a debt they'll "never get out" of, as it will "just roll over and keep going."

County finance chief Thomas Glaser said about 1,300 inmates -- more than 10 percent of the population -- can't come up with $1,000 or less they need to bond out.

"We're trying to address that population with this program," he said, adding it would be risk-free for the county because the proposed contract calls for the contractor -- Indianapolis-based Government Payment Systems -- to bear responsibility for collecting the debt.

Cook County would also be protected from liability if a bond is paid on a card and the cardholder later denies granting permission.

GPS president Dale Conrad said the average fee is about 8 percent of a bond amount and is never more than 10 percent.

Glaser said if commissioners approve a two-year pilot project at the jail, its success could determine whether it can expand.

Stroger defends contractor

Also Tuesday, County Board President John Stroger defended the county's actions in a $50 million hospital contract now under federal investigation.

Faustech Industries, stripped of its minority status by Chicago regulators last week, was accused by a judge of simply serving as a front for the failed 1999 county deal.

The county continues to consider Faustech minority-owned, and Stroger said "no information has come forward that said anybody did anything illegal" in 1999. Even though a judge said the deal "looked bad, that doesn't mean it should taint all of us," Stroger said.

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