By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Jake Rossen
By Lindsay Toler
By Kelsey McClure
By Lindsay Toler
On Jerry Cox's desk, thick black business cards embossed with gold letters spell out the slogan of his St. Charles-based Cox Bail Bonds: "In the box? Call Cox." The 64-year-old Cox, who served two terms in the state House of Representatives as a Democrat, from 1978 to 1982, resembles and speaks in the same gruff tone as an aging George C. Scott.
Sucking down a cigarette, he recalls how, despite his opposition, the MPBBA voted to go along with Virgil Lee Jackson's request to permit felons to get work as bail bondsmen. The association, however, did draw the line on anyone convicted of crimes involving "moral turpitude," child molestation or using a firearm.
To achieve its legislative initiatives, Carroll approached Bob Behnen, the Kirksville House Republican. In the Senate, they went to John Cauthorn, a Republican from Mexico, Missouri. Cauthorn was at the time, and still is, Jack Allison's next-door neighbor.
"When you're elected, you're elected to represent people in your district no matter what they are," says Cauthorn, explaining his support of the legislation, when reached by phone. "I think [Allison] was actually making a good-faith effort to help clean up this industry."
When asked recently about the law, giving the campaign contribution to Behnen and his relationship to Cauthorn, Allison emphatically denies that any ethical breaches were committed.
"They all say that I'm the one that bought off Jeff City and got it passed," he says. "That's bull. You don't buy off Jeff City. I didn't bribe anybody. I didn't do nothing like that. We just lobbied our representatives with what we thought was a good piece of legislation."
The Lee Clause became effective January 1, 2005, the day after Jackson allegedly put a gun to Cox's head.
Why Virgil Lee Jackson arrived, gun in hand, at Jerry Cox's house and later plotted his murder is a matter still debated among the area's bail bondsmen. Cox claims that Jackson's motives might lie in the fact that he was out-hustling him for bail-bond business in St. Charles and Lincoln counties.
"We talked [on New Year's Eve] and he said, 'You're hurting my business, and you're hurting it bad,'" Cox recalls. "I says, 'Well, Lee, isn't that what competition is?' And he says, 'You don't need to be telling them I'm a crook and a thief.' I says, 'Well, who was the one that was convicted of it, Lee — me or you?'"
In an affidavit filed on October 25, 2005 — the day Jackson was arrested — Theodore "Thad" Heitzler, an ATF agent who led the investigation, offers a different motive. He writes that Jackson believed Cox tipped off the Department of Insurance to an elaborate fraud scam. For the transgression, according to Heitzler's affidavit, Jackson was recorded as saying, "Jerry Cox needs a bullet in his head."
After the law containing the Lee Clause passed, Jackson applied to become licensed as a "general agent," but his application was rejected because of his criminal past. The Department of Insurance maintains that the Lee Clause applies only to bail bond agents, not generals. A defiant Jackson proceeded to open his own business in Cottleville, just outside of St. Charles. He called it Lee Jackson Bail Bonds. To cover the bonds he was writing, Jackson registered two corporations with the Missouri Secretary of State — American Guarantee Surety and Missouri National Surety — recognized in 2002 and 2004, respectively.
Though Jack Allison was still technically Jackson's boss, processing his paperwork and collecting a percentage of his profits, Jackson was for all intents and purposes his own general agent. The catch was that the companies were not what they made themselves out to be.
Angela Park, a general bail bond agent based in Rolla, Missouri, and the author of a bail bond industry blog called Missouri Bondsman, meticulously chronicled Jackson's downfall on her Web site. She explains that by choosing the name "surety," Jackson was leading officers of the court to believe that his corporations were multi-million-dollar insurance companies. However, records show that when the companies were registered with the secretary of state their combined worth was $60,000.
"The thing about Jackson's corporation is that it was never licensed as an insurance company or a bail bond corporation," notes Park. "They were just unlicensed entities out there writing bonds. They didn't have to prove they had assets, and the courts were assuming they had insurance licenses when they just didn't."
Says Allison: "Lee had his assets put up with that corporation. His house, his land, whatever he owned, that's what was put up. That's what was available to the courts."
Allison, who was listed as the president of American Guarantee several times in the company's annual filings, adds, "The only thing different about it was that my name was on the general's license [with the Department of Insurance] And I think at one time my name was on them as the vice president or president — or whatever."
In late 2004 an employee at the Department of Insurance received an anonymous phone call tipping them off to Jackson's racket.
"The phone call was made to the state administrator's office who in turned called me and ask me to review [Jackson's] documents," recalls Morgan, the bond supervisor for St. Louis County who uncovered the fraud. "Sure enough, in the process of review we found out the companies were not legitimate and he didn't have the proper paperwork filed with state administrator's office to be qualified to post bonds."