Lawsuit accuses Baton Rouge company of extorting thousands from people awaiting trial

(Photo credit should read DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)

BATON ROUGE – Hundreds of people in Baton Rouge have fallen victim to a predatory scheme designed to extort thousands of dollars from them while they await trial, according to a new lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Louisiana alleges 19th Judicial District Judge Trudy A. White assigned more than 300 people to Rehabilitation Home Incarceration for pretrial supervision in 2015 and 2016.

The company charges an upfront signup fee of $525 and subsequent monthly fees to all clients, and if they don’t pay up, they go back to jail.

“This is a disturbing example of our justice system being twisted beyond recognition by a scheme to make money,” SPLC deputy legal director Sam Brooke said. “People who had already paid their bail were held ransom and extorted out of hundreds and thousands of dollars. They simply wanted their freedom while they awaited their day in court. That desire was exploited by Rehabilitation Home Incarceration.”

The owner of Rehabilitation Home Incarceration, Cleve Dunn Sr., who has been named in the lawsuit, was paid for marketing services related to Judge White’s 2014 reelection campaign, and his son, Cleve Dunn, Jr., served as chairman of White’s campaign.

“This is predatory and illegal. Rehabilitation Home Incarceration puts its own price on people’s liberty and forces them to pay up, over and over again,” senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project Brandon Buskey said. “Worse, this could not happen without the court and the jail enabling this scam, and ignoring the rights of those charged and presumed innocent.”

The lawsuit accuses Cleve Dunn, Sr., of operating an illegal racketeering enterprise and accuses the company and the East Baton Rouge Parish of violating the Fourth and 14th Amendment rights of individuals subjected to this scheme, according to the SPLC.

“The people of Baton Rouge should not be forced to support private companies in order to secure their release from jail,” ACLU of Louisiana executive director Marjorie R. Esman said. “Those awaiting their day in court are entitled to be treated equally regardless of the size of their bank accounts. Instead, people have been jailed and extorted after their release simply because they couldn’t pay a private business and its owners. That is not how our system of justice is supposed to work.”