This week’s Policy Watch story on alleged criminal and predatory behavior in North Carolina’s bail bond industry contains a particularly illuminating example of the way in which minority communities can be harmed by systems that push poor and underrepresented people into dangerous black market situations.
From the affidavit of FBI agent Andrew F. Romagnuolo in the case of Phillip Armachain, who was at the time the only bail agent in Cherokee, North Carolina:
“Phillip Sampson Armachain, Sr. (Armachain) is a bal bondsman and an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). The cherokee Indian Police Department (CIPD) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have learned that enrolled members of the EBCI doing business with Armachain are sending their per capita casino distribution checks to Armachain as collateral for personal loans and to replay bond fees. Additionally, three women have disclosed that they participated in sexual intercourse or other sexual acts with Armachain in return for their bond fees or to have their personal loans from Armachain paid. Armachain is also known to loan money at an interest rate of one hundred percent. Armachain directs individuals that receive loans to change the address of delivery of their per capita casino distribution check to his Post Office Box (P.O. Box) – 1091, Cherokee, NC. Armachain also requests power of attorney from the loan recipients in order to cash the per capita checks.
During 2015, over one hundred and fifty enrolled members of the EBCI listed a delivery address of P.O. Box 1091, Cherokee, NC, as the location their ECBI per capita casino distribution check be mailed to. The distribution occurs twice a year in June and December. Approximately 300 per capita checks were mailed to P.O. Box 1091, Cherokee, NC, in 2015.”
Native American women are among the nation’s most sexually victimized populations.
A 2016 study from the National Institute of Justice found 84 percent of Native American women reported experiencing violence in their lifetime. That’s more than 1.5 million native women. More than half of those cases were some form of domestic or sexual violence.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 26 percent of single-race American Indian and Alaska Native people were living in poverty in 2016 – the highest rate of any race group. For the nation as a whole, the poverty rate was 14.0 percent. Nineteen percent of the single-race American Indian and Alaska Native people who lacked health insurance coverage in 2016, according to census numbers. For the nation as a whole, it was 8.6 percent.
Armachain was accused of providing loans to poor women who had few other options — and charging as much as 100 percent interest. He was also charged with extorting sex from women who owed him money either for the personal loans he is alleged to have provided as usurious interest rates or in exchange for bail bonds.