Community bond funds say they help poor people get out of jail — but some of their choices raise eyebrows

During a court hearing Monday for Ruben Roman, the man who’s accused of firing a gun and then giving it to 13-year-old Adam Toledo moments before police fatally shot the boy, a Cook County judge revealed that the 21-year-old managed to get out of jail because a community bond fund paid his bail.

The Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF) paid a $40,000 deposit to get Roman out of jail after he was ordered held on $150,000 bail for charges related to the Toledo incident and $250,000 bail for violating the terms of probation in an earlier gun case. Both bail orders required 10% deposits.

“A lot of people sitting in jail could use some of that money,” Judge Edward Maloney said during Roman’s hearing Monday.

While CCBF’s publicity materials say it posts bond for people who “cannot afford to pay the bonds themselves and who have been impacted by structural violence,” court records show the group does not shy away from winning release for people who are accused of violent crimes.

A leader at the bond fund told CBSChicago yesterday, “We often prioritize cases that are connected to social justice movements – especially the movement to end police violence.”

Which brings us to another benefactor of their work: Donald Conwell.

Last April, CCBF posted $8,000 to get Conwell out of jail on electronic monitoring as he faced 123 felony charges, including dozens of counts of criminal sexual assault, gun violations, aggravated battery, trafficking labor, and involuntary servitude, court records show.

A judge initially ordered Conwell, 40, held in lieu of $1 million, but Judge Lisette Mojica reduced that amount to $80,000 as COVID fears swept the county jail last April. CCBF then posted a 10% deposit to get Conwell out of jail.

Yet another judge later determined that Conwell violated the terms of his release and ordered him back into custody. Conwell is now being held without bond.

In February, CWBChicago reported that another bail organization, The Bail Project, posted bond to get a convicted murderer out of jail while he awaited trial for possessing a stolen motor vehicle and felony burglary. Oscar Grissett, 48, was also on parole for three robbery cases at the time.

The Bail Project, a charitable non-profit that raises money to “combat the injustices” of cash bail, posted his bond on September 25.

Just a couple of months later, he came to possess another stolen car and used it while robbing a West Loop pet store in December, prosecutors allege.

Charitable bond funds enjoy special treatment in Cook County, too. Records show judges rarely order them to forfeit posted bail money even if the accused person violates the terms of release or goes missing.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is