Telephone vendor found to have recorded more confidential calls between O.C. inmates and attorneys

The Orange County Jail Complex in Santa Ana.
Several high-ranking employees of the contractor that oversees the Orange County Jail phone system appeared in court in 2018. Pictured, the Orange County Jail Complex in Santa Ana.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A telephone vendor found to have recorded thousands of calls between Orange County jail inmates and their attorneys may have continued to record confidential calls even after the company said it was no longer doing so, according to a motion filed by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders.

It first came to light in 2018 that Global Tel Link Corp. — a Virginia-based contractor that oversees the county’s jail phone system — recorded the confidential calls for the previous three years. The company blamed the lapse on “human error.”

Yet, Sanders’ motion filed last week contends that the company recorded at least six calls between April to December 2019 from the number of the Westminster branch office of the Orange County Public Defender, though GTL had supposedly repaired the system that led to the lapses and added the number to a “do not record” list.

The company was found to have recorded inmate-attorney calls also in 2015 in Pinellas and Charlotte counties in Florida.

Orange County is still contracting with GTL.

“The reality is that the developments detailed herein, combined with GTL’s history in this county and nation, eviscerate any reasonable faith that GTL reliably blocks the recording of calls from inmates to counsel whose numbers appear on the county’s ‘do not record’ list,” the motion says.

Orange County Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders filed a motion regarding GTL's recording of inmate and attorney calls.
Orange County Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders filed a motion regarding GTL’s recording of inmate and attorney calls.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The motion was filed on behalf of Sanders’ client, Ryan Franks, who had at least one call recorded by GTL.

He is seeking records that would indicate how many calls were recorded between him and his counsel and whether prosecutors accessed those calls.

Bernardo Alvarez Zalpa, 51, pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter, hit and run and driving under the influence, among other felony charges, nearly two years after a fatal accident on the 55 Freeway in Costa Mesa.

Prosecutors originally filed a motion to quash the subpoena but withdrew that this week.

“We withdrew our motion to quash based on new information we were provided,” District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Wednesday in a statement. “As a county supervisor I was deeply concerned about the allegations confidential conversations between defendants and their defense attorneys were being illegally recorded by GTL, and I continue to be incredibly troubled by these continued allegations.

“I have now joined with the defense in issuing subpoenas to GTL and the Sheriff’s Department to find out if calls were in fact illegally recorded. If it turns out that GTL was once again recording attorney client privileged communications there will serious consequences. As prosecutors, we continue to fulfill our obligations to ensure fair and just criminal prosecutions and ensure that no one’s rights are being violated.”

Sanders is known for discovering that the district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department were illegally using jailhouse informants to obtain confessions in 2016.

In the motion, Sanders said the information is critically important to a motion to withdraw Franks’ guilty plea of car theft.

Sanders was given the information on the most recent recorded calls by a special master months after Franks pleaded guilty. The special master was appointed by a judge in 2018 to review the calls.

Though the special master provided just six calls, Sanders said in the motion that there are “likely more than a thousand others.”

“If an attorney’s phone number had been uploaded to the ‘do not record’ list why would any calls to that number have been recorded — and, alternatively, if a number had never been uploaded to the ‘do not record’ list, then why were not all of the calls to that number recorded?” the motion says. “In other words, there should have been zero recorded calls to the Westminster Branch of the OCPD between April 2019 (when the upload allegedly occurred) and December 2019 (which is when the last recorded call was provided by the Special Master).

“If the number was never uploaded, however, every one of the 1,000+ calls during the time period should have been recorded. Under either scenario it is illogical that six calls would have been recorded.”

The motion contends that GTL hasn’t been truthful or transparent for years.

GTL spokesman Randy Brown declined to comment.

The Orange County chapter of a prominent Armenian activist group claims a Fullerton company produced antennas used in drones that are killing Armenian civilians.

Sanders wrote in the motion that the company knew or believed in 2015 that confidential inmate calls were being recorded in Orange County. The company was already aware by early 2015 that it had recorded inmate calls in the two Florida counties, the motion says.

“In July 2018, the contractor who provides phone service to inmates in the OCSD jails, Global Tel Link Corp. (GTL), revealed that due to human error by a GTL employee, 1,079 inmate telephone calls to numbers that should have been designated as “do not record” were erroneously recorded by the contractor,” said Orange County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun in an email.

“As a result of this discovery, OCSD staff directed GTL to correct the issue. Prior to July 2018, OCSD had received no notice from GTL that this was an issue. OCSD relies on many third-party vendors to provide vital services to our department. It is expected that vendors comply with the contracts they agree to, and that they meet the requirements of those contracts.

“The department has not been notified that there have been additional attorney/client calls recorded. If it is determined that attorney/client calls have been recorded, we have policy to address it.”

Braun said that the county is in the request for proposal process for updating the inmate phone system. The final decision on that will go before the county Board of Supervisors next year.

A 2019 Grand Jury report found that the Sheriff’s Department’s inadequate oversight led to the recording of the inmate-attorney calls. The Grand Jury also found no evidence of improper use of the recorded calls.

Sanders criticized that report at the time.

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.