Judge delays Elkhart business owner's detention ruling over halfway house questions

A federal judge is factoring GPS-tracking concerns into whether he grants James LeDonne’s request.

Posted on Aug. 6, 2014 at 4:32 p.m.

SOUTH BEND — A federal judge will take a little longer to decide whether authorities can keep a close-enough eye on an Elkhart-based business owner to guarantee he’ll appear for trial next year.

At a hearing Wednesday, Aug. 6, in U.S. District Court, Judge Jon DeGuilio took under advisement defendant James LeDonne’s motion to be released from the St. Joseph County Jail so that he can better prepare his defense. DeGuilio said he needed more time to determine whether LeDonne could be housed at the Bradley Center, a Michigan City halfway house operated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

The Bradley Center allows offenders to move freely in the community during the day while wearing a GPS-based tracking device and return to the facility nightly. But the center typically only houses offenders post-conviction, and it contracts for GPS-based monitoring with a different firm than the one exclusively contracted by the court’s probation department, probation officer Melinda Page told the judge.

Page said her department’s vendor uses “passive” GPS, meaning it shows where the offender has been every four hours but does not track him in real time unless a staff member sits at a monitor and watches. Technology for active GPS, which instantly alerts officials if the wearer tries to remove the device, also exists but Page said she didn’t know whether the Bradley Center uses it.

DeGuilio wondered aloud what the court’s contracted monitoring vendor would do if the exclusivity clause of the contract was violated by his order.

“I don’t know that that’s my problem, to be honest with you,” he said.

LeDonne has been jailed since his May 14 arrest on a federal indictment alleging bank fraud, wire fraud and bankruptcy fraud. The government said he accepted down payments, usually equal to 50 percent of the vehicle’s cost, to make fiber-optic splicing vehicles ordered by fiber-optic line contractors throughout the United States and Canada, but he never delivered on the units.

As part of the multi-million dollar fraud scheme, claiming more than 50 victims, LeDonne used a series of bankruptcies to avoid refunding their money, the indictment alleges. He then would create a new company and victimize more prospective customers through the new company, the indictment alleges.

At issue is whether LeDonne, facing up to 27 years in prison at age 59, would pose too large a risk of fleeing before his scheduled Jan. 16 jury trial, as well as whether he would be a threat to the community. His Elkhart attorney, William Cohen, asked the judge to consider several options utilizing a BluTag GPS-based monitoring device, which uses “active” monitoring, meaning it instantly alerts officials if the device is taken off. LeDonne could wear the device while being released during the day and returning to the jail nightly for sleep, staying at a halfway house, or being allowed to rent an apartment.

DeGuilio quickly eliminated the option of reporting nightly to jail since local jails don’t allow that. But he did seem interested in the Bradley Center and asked Page to find out if the facility uses active GPS tracking and if it would take in a pre-trial resident by the end of the day Wednesday.

Assistant U.S. attorney Donald Schmid continued to argue against pre-trial release, saying LeDonne is not trustworthy and would pose an “economic” threat to the community if free on bond.

"It’s a simple matter for these devices to be cut off,” Schmid told DeGuilio. “You get a pair of bolt cutters and snip it off. People walk out of the Bradley Center all the time. I’ve prosecuted six or seven such cases. I had a person on home detention who snipped it off and he was gone for six years.”

The judge told Schmid that LeDonne is either a “really good actor” or he has a strong emotional attachment to his five children, one factor that could keep him from fleeing the area.

But Schmid has said LeDonne’s wife, who plans to divorce LeDonne and was closing on the sale of their $1 million Granger home Wednesday, has told him the children want nothing to do with him.

"Victims that agents have interviewed have said he’s an extraordinary actor and con-man,” Schmid replied.

DeGuilio said even if LeDonne cuts the device off, he would have the U.S. Marshal’s Service looking for him.

"It’s not easy to track down someone who’s fled,” Schmid said, noting that LeDonne managed to generate about $9,000 in cash while behind bars, meaning he could quickly obtain the means with which to flee.

DeGuilio did not say when he will rule on the detention issue, but said it will happen “quickly.”

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