Police: Fake bondsmen preyed on Hispanics

LAWRENCEVILLE - Two men purporting themselves to be employees of a legitimate bonding company stole $6,300 from a Hispanic family in Gwinnett last year and jumped state lines, officials said.

One half of the duo was caught last week in Alabama, while the second man is still at large, an official said.

Michael Samnik, 38, of Roswell, was arrested Thursday in Lee County, Alabama and

transported back to the Gwinnett County Jail. Officials say Samnik worked in concert with 41-year-old Marlon Rene Gaitan, posing as employees of Gwinnett-based "The Bondsman" to scam money from at least one Hispanic family trying to bail out a loved one.

Samnik was charged with felony theft by deception and posing as a bondsman, a misdemeanor. He posted $4,050 bond and was freed from jail on May 9, the day he was arrested.

Gaitan, who faces the same charges, remains at large. Investigators believe he has fled metro Atlanta.

"We take these type of crimes very seriously," said Sheriff Butch Conway. The men preyed "on people who they knew would be more vulnerable to this type of crime."

Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais said the men have been tied to only one theft case thus far.

"No one else has come forward," she said. "Obviously, as word gets out, they may."

Gaitan, the wanted suspect, initially made contact with the family when he offered them a business card in a restaurant last year, selling himself as a translator who could help with legal matters, officials said.

"Apparently, this is fairly common in Hispanic communities, passing out cards," Bourbonnais said.

The victims called on Gaitan for help last year when a family member was arrested.

The two men met with the family at the Gwinnett County Jail, presenting themselves as authorized bondsmen approved to sign on criminal bonds. They exchanged money in the jail lobby, and the men pretended to enter the jail to post bond, but returned shortly after, claiming they needed the incarcerated person's passport, Bourbonnais said.

The family left to retrieve the passport and never heard from the two men again. They contacted the Sheriff's Department in February, "and we've been working this, trying to determine who these people were," Bourbonnais said.

Scams involving unauthorized people claiming to be legitimate bondsmen are uncommon in Gwinnett, Bourbonnais said.

During another instance in the last couple of years, someone advertising an illegitimate bonding company targeted Hispanics by placing ads at pay phones around Gwinnett, she said.

"This is the first time where someone has actually held themselves out to be working with a legitimate bonding company," she said.

The Sheriff's Department urges anyone with information about Gaitan's whereabouts to call the tip line at 770-619-6840.