Murfreesboro police have arrested a Lebanon man they say scammed at least three families by posing as a bail bondsman.
Joseph Demaio, 28, was charged with three counts of theft on March 8.
Demaio scammed a lot of people during his phony bond scheme, according to police and witnesses. First, he reportedly went to a local bonding company, posing as a customer.
Bondsman Monte Smith says Demaio claimed to have a relative in jail.
"He wanted to see a contract so he could bring it to his grandmother," Smith says.
Smith says that Demaio never returned to ask for a bond. The next thing he knew, Smith was hearing from fraud victims who thought the company where Smith worked, Chris Highers Bail Bonds, had done them wrong. Demaio apparently presented the valid company's contract to his victims.
"Instead of hearing from him, I heard from other people, saying they had given me money to make bonds, and it wasn't me," Smith says.
Police say Demaio was contacting the families of people who were incarcerated, offering to bond them out for a fee.
One victim, Norma Ramirez, told Channel 4 that Demaio called her repeatedly. He knew her nephews were in jail on DUI charges. He offered to get them out for $1,500 and that she was to meet him in a restaurant parking lot in Murfreesboro with the $900 cash down payment. Ramirez says once she gave Demaio the money, he disappeared and never helped her nephews.
Two other victims relayed similar stories to Channel 4. All had Hispanic surnames.
Murfreesboro Police Department spokesman Kyle Evans says that was part of Demaio's plan.
"We believe he preyed on Hispanic families because of their unfamiliarity with the legal system and how it works," Evans says.
And how did Demaio get their names and phone numbers in the first place? Police say Demaio went to local jails, pretending to be a federal ICE agent.
The family members each lost between $900 and $1,100. One victim is a pregnant wife; another told Channel 4 she had to borrow the money from relatives. A third victim said there were red flags, but she was emotionally vulnerable.
None of the victims knew the one crucial fact that would have protected them - bonding companies are not allowed to approach customers. The customers should be the ones to approach the bonding companies.
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