EVANSVILLE, Ind. – A defendant awaiting trial in Vanderburgh County paid more than $ 10,000 to a private company for electronic surveillance and drug testing in the past 18 months – in part because the company has him often asked to test several times a week.
In fact, the company, ABK Tracking, regularly uses strategies to maximize profits, such as requiring frequent drug testing, say two former employees, despite the financial burden on probationers and defendants, who have to pay for the tests in cash. advance.
“Puts people in impossible situations”: Vanderburgh Probation Fee Cost May Mean Jail
ABK owner Danny Koester declined to confirm or deny their statements, referring the questions to Vanderburgh County Circuit Court Judge David Kiely. Kiely did not respond to a request for comment.
As reported by the Courier & Press in October, ABK Tracking has an exclusive, non-tender agreement with Kiely, a friend of Koester’s, to provide services to anyone placed on probation in the county as well as certain defendants. awaiting judgment. Those who do not pay and do not pass the tests required by ABK are liable to be sent to prison.
The Courier & Press investigation also found that ABK’s testing and monitoring fees are twice or even more than other providers charge in Vanderburgh and surrounding counties.
Despite the dismay expressed by citizens, defense attorneys and even another Vanderburgh County judge, ABK continues to be the sole provider of drug testing and electronic surveillance commissioned by the county probation service.
“This is hurting our community, the courts need to fix it,” one reader commented. “Help these people to get their act together without putting them in more financial difficulty.”
Reaction: Commissioners are silent on the Vanderburgh judge’s no-offer deal with the company. Readers are not.
Vanderburgh County Commissioners have not commented on the situation after obtaining a legal opinion that they have no control over the operations of the courts even if they give them money to operate.
Koester has defended the deal in the past as “saving tons of taxpayer money” by billing individuals directly instead of contracting with the courts to provide drug and alcohol testing and a electronic surveillance.
“Most companies don’t want to do ‘private payment’. They don’t want to go into the private sector because you’re losing a lot of money, and we’ve lost millions of dollars from people not paying us,” did he declare.
Kiely said ABK sets its own costs. “I have nothing to do with their business other than I hire them and I think they do a really good job,” he said.
Fees pile on top of each other
Dalton Keller, 22, of Evansville pleaded not guilty to drug felony charges in June 2020. As a bail condition, Keller was ordered to pay for electronic monitoring and drug testing through ABK – des costs which now total more than $ 10,000 for a person who is constitutionally presumed innocent pending the outcome of his trial next month.
“I bonded and now I have to pay to stay out of jail or go back,” he said in an interview with Courier & Press.
Following: Evansville man who stopped paying probation fees must now serve his prison sentence
Keller, a mechanic, said it had been difficult to pay ABK and provide for his four children, aged 3 to 8.
At an Aug. 23 hearing in Vanderburgh Superior Court, Keller told Judge Wayne Trockman he was paying probation fees of $ 60 per month in court as well as ABK electronic monitoring fees of $ 112 per week. and a drug test fee of $ 35 each, according to a transcript.
The terms of his bail did not specify how often to test for drugs, but Trockman said he was surprised ABK Tracking required him to test more than once a week.
“How often do they give you drug tests?” Asked the judge.
“Usually, if I take a drug test on a Monday, I get it on a Thursday,” Keller said.
Trockman: “Did you get tested twice a week for drugs?” “
Keller: “Yeah. Not every week, but a few weeks.
The judge, who told the Courier & Press he was troubled by ABK’s high fees, ordered that Keller be removed from electronic home detention and placed in the county drug probation service program so that ‘it is only charged for one test per week.
“I’m surprised at the amount (Keller paid) but not surprised that profit is the main motivator in private for-profit legal services,” said Chris Lenn, Keller’s defense lawyer.
Keller said this month that it took a while for him to catch up on his finances.
“I can just now take the kids to places like Chuck E. Cheese and not be broke during the week,” he said.
Former employees speak out
Two former ABK Tracking employees said in separate interviews with Courier & Press that the company pressured workers to take as much money as possible from participants.
“They were aware that people couldn’t afford the costs,” said Courtney Marvel, who worked from 2014 to 2016 in the areas of the company’s drug and alcohol testing and GPS tracking.
Both Marvel and Amy Hofmann said ABK directors asked employees to file petitions to revoke participants’ probation when they couldn’t pay the fees.
“It happened every day. If they didn’t bring in the money, we immediately called the cops. It was just called PTR,” Marvel said.
For many, that would mean going to jail instead.
Hofmann, who worked at ABK from 2015 to 2018, said managers sometimes ordered participants to show up for additional testing without input from the Vanderburgh County Probation Service. She said employees were also encouraged to add blood alcohol testing for drug test participants where possible.
Marvel said it was also customary at ABK to withhold drug testing fees from participants if they admitted to using drugs or alcohol before they were given a test.
“They didn’t get their money back and they didn’t pass a test,” she said.
Participants who were one day late in paying for the electronic monitoring system were also charged late fees, she said.
Hofmann and Marvel both said that ABK’s cash payment policy sometimes resulted in participants paying twice for their tests when receipts – cash paper clips – were withdrawn.
“It was all cash only. They were absolutely ruthless,” Marvel said. “A lot of people who didn’t have cash wanted to pay by credit card. They wouldn’t accept any payment other than cash.”
Koester, owner of ABK, declined to discuss the former employees’ allegations in an interview. He referred the questions either to his lawyer or to “the courts”. Lawyer Mark Phillips, who represents ABK, did not respond to calls for comment.
When asked if ABK employees add additional drug and alcohol testing for participants without asking the courts or the probation office, Koester said that question should be answered by Kiely.
“It would be a question for the judge because it all comes down to him, about how we set ourselves up and what (they) want us to do,” he said. “It’s strictly through the justice system, what they tell us to do.”
Journalist Mark Wilson can be contacted at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: ABK tracking fee reaches $ 10,000 for Evansville’s dad awaiting trial