Bond was reduced on Tuesday for Jonathan “Jay” Brooks, the co-founder of Compass Academy who was arrested last week and charged with securities fraud.
A bond reduction from $500,000 to $100,000 was approved for Brooks by Circuit Judge Thomas Cooper. A motion for bond reduction was made by Brooks' attorney Todd Rutherford.
Brooks, who shuffled into the courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs and leg restraints, remained silent during the hearing except for a couple of whispered exchanges with Rutherford. He turned himself in to authorities on Friday and was charged with one count of securities fraud.
An arrest warrant alleges that Brooks took investment money for an entity called the “Charles Howell Trust,” but the entity was fictional. Brooks instead converted the funds for his personal use, according to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Creighton Waters, who spoke for the Attorney General's office at Tuesday's proceeding.
Six of the alleged victims in the case were present in the courtroom on Tuesday.
“They are very concerned,” Waters said.
“Obviously, their lives have been devastated by this crime and they are concerned that Mr. Brooks has access to funds and will flee from prosecution,” Waters said.
Waters added that Brooks has cooperated with authorities. He recently moved his family to an unknown part of Texas.
“Given the gravity of the charges at issue and the fact that his family has moved to Texas … we believe that a surety bond is appropriate to ensure that Mr. Brooks returns to court,” Waters said, requesting a bond of no less than $100,000.
Rutherford told the court that Brooks lived in Texas from 1998 to 2008, and that his family's move there was no secret.
“His move to Texas was not out of the blue and was not unknown to everybody,” he said.
Rutherford mentioned that the finances of Brooks, his companies and Compass Academy are under the control of a court-appointed receiver, to whom Brooks has laid out “every dollar that he has.” He added that because Brooks, who is 40 years old, has a wife and two children, turned himself into authorities and has since cooperated with the investigation, he should not be considered a flight risk, and requested a bond of less than $100,000.
“We believe a bond of $25,000 is certainly more appropriate … for someone in this situation,” he said.
Cooper said the bond process is “sometimes the most misunderstood part of what we do.”
“The fact that you have moved out of state will ratchet some of the concern that you may not return when you're supposed to,” he said to Brooks.
The felony charge of securities fraud carries a possible punishment of up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $500,000.
Brooks, his wife and his companies have previously been accused by the state Attorney General's office of illegally selling unregistered securities to fund the establishment of a private school, Compass Academy, on Toolebeck Road. They have also been accused by the Securities Division of the Attorney General's office of using those funds to purchase groceries, their home, vacations and jewelry, rather than investing them.
Brooks also faces multiple civil lawsuits.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.