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Bondsmen Track Clients — Wherever They May Go

Thursday, November 10, 2011
Bail Agent Jerry Steele
     Bail Agent Jerry Steele. NewsHerald.com, Staff

There’s a large incentive for bail agents to track down defendants who miss their court dates and skip town. Check out this article by NewsHerald.com to see one bail agent’s methods for finding clients who leave town and why it’s so important they are returned.

PARKER — Most of what a bail bondsman does is routine.

Monday mornings before noon are spent answering the hundreds of calls that pour in from clients who are contractually obligated to check in each week. The afternoons, after a judge at the courthouse has set bonds for the people who ended up in jail the night before, get hectic in the office of Steele Boys’ Bails Bonds Inc.

It’s hardly the stuff of reality TV. Phyllis Harmon, a bail bondsman for owner Jerry Steele, has the power to arrest people but rarely needs to; much of the work, she said, is paperwork.

Bail bondsmen are the connection between the courts and the streets. For a nonrefundable fee of 10 percent of whatever bond a judge sets, Steele will get a defendant out of jail. He takes responsibility for ensuring that defendant appears in court as they are supposed to. If they don’t show, Steele’s the one who will hunt them down.

His reputation for getting his clients back dissuades most people from even thinking about skipping, Harmon said. Steele has brought people back from California and the Virgin Islands. He’s trying to get someone back from Vietnam, but the extradition is not going well.

There’s a hefty financial incentive to return defendants who have absconded. If someone were to put up $1,000 on a $10,000 bond for their son — and then leaves town — Steele would have to eat the $9,000 balance. More accurately, his insurance company would eat the $9,000; either way, it’s bad for business.

“I’d rather spend $10,000 looking for you than give $10,000 to the court,” Steele said.

Methods

Steele has several options for finding clients who leave town. The bail bond application requires phone numbers for moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, best friends, wives, ex-wives and children. But more often, a couple hundred bucks in the right hand will get a solid location.

A man who runs with his girlfriend makes it easy. He can’t work, so she will have to; it’s only a matter of time before her name will show up on a pay stub or an electricity bill in Pennsylvania — or wherever.

Bail bondsman also can do things police can’t, such as kick down a door without a warrant. The contract gives five reasons a bond can be revoked, including getting rearrested, leaving town, moving without notifying your bondsman, lying on the application, or “any act which shall constitute reasonable evidence of principal’s intention to cause a forfeiture of said bond.”

Which brings us to Danielle McNeil and her boyfriend. McNeil, her boyfriend and another man were arrested in September after a traffic stop. During the stop, according to the arrest affidavit, police found a mobile meth lab in the trunk of the car.

McNeil said her parents paid cash for her bond, $2,100, but they refused to bond out her boyfriend, Corey Hight, so McNeil sold her car to Steele and used the cash to pay the bond.

In the meantime, Steele had come to suspect Hight had lied about his address on his application. Then a woman came into his office and confirmed Steele’s suspicions, adding that she’d heard Hight talking about skipping town and where he might go. He specifically mentioned the Cayman Islands, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.

Their discussion turned to the car. “I will pay the $2,100, but I don’t want her to get the car,” she said.

Steele pulled a stack of vehicle titles from his desk and leafed through them until he found the right one.

“If I give her the money, I don’t want her to get the car,” the woman said.

“OK, well, we’re going to need to get something in writing,” Steele said.

He asked Harmon to draft a contract for the bond plus tax.

“We’re going to need a bill of sale for the — what was it? — whatever the whole thing was.”

Once Hight is back in jail, Steele said, the woman return to the office with the cash for the car and take possession.

The next morning, Steele and an employee lured Hight, who was staying with McNeil in a trailer in Parker, with a fairly simple ruse. They drove by the trailer where they believed the defendant was staying and noticed a for-sale sign.

Steele’s employee called, posing as a potential buyer and arranged to see it at 10 a.m. Steele dropped by 30 seconds later to arrest Hight.

Hight, of course, did not want to go back to jail.

“C’mon J.J.,” he pleaded from the sofa of the trailer he shared with his girlfriend. “I don’t even know why you’re doing this.”

Steele expected that. The ones who don’t fight always beg, but a sympathetic bail bondsman would go broke fast, he said, so the cuffs go on.

It’s not that Steele has a heart of stone; once the cuffs are on, the defendant is allowed to remove his jewelry and put his shoes on. Hight and McNeil get a few minutes to say goodbye, and on the trip to the jail Steele stopped by Burger King.

It’s not personal, just business, so there’s no reason a defendant should return to jail hungry, or worse yet, with a bad taste in his mouth, because if it’s true that 10 percent of the population commits 90 percent of the crimes, every defendant should be viewed as a potential repeat customer, Steele said.

Of 34 defendants who had their first appearance one day last month, Steele bonded 22 of them out on previous charges, he said.

Original Article: Bondsmen track clients — wherever they may go