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Bail money posted could go to schools, if defendants don’t show

Boone County Treasurer Tom Darrough thought the circuit clerk’s account balance was a mistake. The number had jumped by five million dollars since he checked the other day, and called Christy Blakemore’s office to make sure what he saw was right.

“So I immediately checked into why that six million was there, and came about finding five million of it was a single bond that had been placed, cash bond,” Darrough told ABC 17 News.

Last Friday, arson suspect Mehrdad Fotoohighiam paid his $5 million, cash-only bond through a cashier’s check. Columbia police suspect Fotoohighiam, owner of Electenergy Technology Inc., of paying an employee $500 to light a woman’s trailer on fire in December. The woman escaped the blaze at her home on Rock Quarry Road, and suffered second-degree burns, along with other injuries. Police arrested Fotoohighiam at his south Columbia home in June, after a nine-hour standoff. On Monday, Fotoohighiam pleaded not guilty to the single arson charge.

Fotoohighiam’s lawyer, John M. Roodhouse, argued last month that the $5 million bond was “unprecedented” for the crime. However, prosecutors feared Fotoohighiam could easily leave the country if let out, due to his wealth and dual citizenship with Iran. Associate Circuit Judge Kim Shaw denied motions to both reduce his bond and revoke his bond at that hearing on July 24.

Fotoohighiam can get that money back, so long as he continues to appear for his court dates, until the case reaches an end. If he misses, or violates the rules of his release, he could forfeit the $5 million to Boone County. Darrough said any bond amounts greater than $500 forfeited in this way go towards county schools. The county clerk’s office sets the split at 85 percent for Columbia Public Schools and 15 percent for other districts in the county.

“If that money, indeed, stays with Boone County, that procedure is in place to disperse those funds, and the schools benefit greatly,” Darrough said.

Fotoohighiam’s bond receipt, obtained by ABC 17 News, said he cannot contact or threaten the victim in the fire, or threaten any witnesses in the pending case.

Darrough said the massive amount of money now in the account could cause regulatory headaches for the county and Central Bank, the place the county uses for its accounts. He said he will meet with bank officials Thursday morning to form a plan while the court deals with the criminal case.

“We’ll be meeting to figure out a strategy to figure out what to do in that time frame, because it could be a long time,” Darrough said.

A circuit court judge has not yet been assigned to Fotoohighiam’s case. James Hall, the employee accused of setting the fire, is still in the Boone County Jail on a $200,000 cash-only bond.

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