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Skip Bail and a Bounty Hunter Dogs Your Trail

Monday, May 2, 2011

Just as they were about to give up their search, James Fabie, bail bondsman, and Harry Drennen, bounty hunter, spotted their prey walking out of a convenience store.

Francisco Camacho-Otero, bail jumper, reportedly armed and dangerous, took off on foot. Fabie followed closely.

"He threw a beer bottle at me and missed," Fabie recalls. "I pushed him to the ground. We wrestled until I got control."

Meanwhile, Drennen called the cops.

This scene might have been filmed in Hawaii or Colorado for the reality TV show "Dog the Bounty Hunter."

In reality, it took place on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where Camacho-Otero, wanted on gun and drug charges plus bail-jumping in Lancaster County, had run to hide.

"We spent two days chasing him in 100-degree heat last July," Fabie says. "He was moving from town to town, just ahead of us. We kept driving up and down Route 50."

Camacho-Otero, who had just turned 30, told Eastern Shore relatives (who told Fabie and Drennen) that he had a gun and would never go back to jail.

Fabie and Drennen proved the fugitive wrong.

They returned Camacho-Otero to Lancaster County Prison, thereby avoiding forfeit of the $10,000 Fabie had paid to bail him out of jail.

In fact, Fabie earned even more when Camacho-Otero's bail was increased to $15,000. The first bond cost the defendant $425. Fabie got $1,400 for the second, which enhanced the value of that hot two-day search.

Welcome to the world of bail bondsmen and bounty hunters. It can be dramatic.

Two of the county's three individual bail bondsmen — Fabie and Sylvester "Casey" Jones — agreed to discuss what they do for a living.

He likes helping
Jones, a thoughtful, soft-spoken man, limited himself to discussing his work bailing out and attempting to rehabilitate defendants. At 65, he doesn't chase down bail skippers anymore. He hires Drennen to do that.

"Finding runaways is not the type of business I like," he explains.

What Jones likes is helping people. A former McCaskey High School administrator, city school board member and longtime director of Prescott House, a Lancaster home for juvenile delinquents, Jones runs his bail operation in the Small Business Center on South Prince Street.

He started the business in 1995, when friends and family members needed bail services. He learned how to handle those cases and, "instead of haphazardly trying to do it," decided to become a bondsman.

His office is filled with pictures of family members and national black leaders. It is also filled with files of hundreds of defendants — some former students he has bailed out of jail.

A Millersville University graduate who trained for social work, Jones concentrates not only on bailing out defendants but also on helping them find employment, housing, counseling and education.

"People make choices," he says. "If they continue to make the wrong choices, they're going to get what they've always gotten. I hope to help them make better choices.

"The ironic thing," he adds, "is it's not the person that's locked up that has the worst of it; it's the family. Being a bail bondsman helps alleviate their stress and trauma."

But after 16 years of bail bonding, Jones has begun to burn out.

Owing the county nearly half a million dollars in forfeited bail is part of the problem. Competing with other bondsmen for business is another part. Tracking down bail-jumpers so Drennen can haul them back in is another.

"It's a lot of hard work. It's a lot of frustration," he says. "For a one-man operation, it keeps you pretty busy."

They're selective
Fabie and Drennen's two-man operation is equally busy.

They operate Lancaster Bail Bonds from a flashy office with the name on the window at 17 N. Duke St.

Fabie, 37, smiles a lot. His well-muscled upper arms suggest he also works out a lot. When he's not smiling, you can tell he means business.

Business comes to Lancaster Bail Bonds from word-of-mouth referrals, fliers posted in the prison, and people who see the sign on the office window.

While a reporter is sitting in the office taking notes, a woman calls to discuss bail for her boyfriend. Her boyfriend has heard about Lancaster Bail Bonds from another inmate.

Here is Fabie's end of the conversation.

"Where does he live?"

"How old is he?"

"Does he have a job?"

"Do you have a job?"

"I need some kind of collateral for him. Does anyone own a house or a car?"

Pause.

"You'll have to call another bondsman."

After he hangs up the phone, Fabie explains that the defendant is a 31-year-old man, originally from Philadelphia, who has been living in Lancaster for a year. He has no family in the area. He has no job. His girlfriend needs someone to cover $25,000 in bail.

"I won't do it," Fabie says, "but she'll get someone to write that bail."

Fabie learned much of what he knows about the bail business from a bondsman in York, his hometown. He began working in Lancaster four years ago.

After paying Drennen and office expenses, he says, he makes about $125,000 a year.

"But I earn that money," he notes. "Sometimes I don't see my family for three days at a time."

Fabie will bail someone out of jail at any time of day or night, but he will not accept risky clients. If he thinks someone might run, he won't cover bail.

Who is too risky to handle?"

"Anyone from the Bronx," Fabie says. "Anyone from the Dominican Republic, because they can't be extradited if they go there. Anybody without ties to the area, or without a job, or homeless."

Giving chase
No matter how selective they are, Fabie and Drennen find, some defendants will run out on them and the court.

Most are located quickly. Some elude pursuers for several months. The county gives bondsmen a full year from the date of forfeiture before determining that the defendant is gone for good and requiring bondsmen to pay the bail.

Drennen, a tall, bearded ex-Marine who can be, Fabie says, "very intimidating," takes the lead in finding defendants for Lancaster Bail Bonds.

The 44-year-old fugitive recovery agent — Pennsylvania does not require licenses for bounty hunters — talks with the bail-jumper's friends and family. He pokes around on the Internet. When he locates a defendant, he and Fabie go on a hunt.

"There are no written rules for recovery in Pennsylvania," Drennen explains. "The common courtesy is to contact local law enforcement. If they're available, they might come to assist, but there's a limit on what they can do."

So Drennen and Fabie often wind up chasing runaways by themselves.

One afternoon they confronted a defendant on the lam who was picnicking with a girlfriend and his two children outside Millersville.

The defendant hopped in a car with the kids. Fabie grabbed a door handle and the driver took off, dragging Fabie several feet and nearly running down Drennen.

The driver ran up and over a large boulder, wrenching the vehicle's undercarriage and bouncing the children, and kept going.

Fabie and Drennen lost the fugitive at that time but soon located him in the city. They turned him over to police, who took him to jail. A judge revoked bail.

"When that guy ran over the boulder, I said, 'What the hell did that guy just do?' " Drennen recalls of the incident. "He's got kids in the car. He's an idiot."

On rare occasions, fugitive recovery turns violent.

Five years ago, Dale Kauffman, a bail bondsman from Columbia, shot a fugitive as he tried to flee a Lancaster house. The court eventually stripped Kauffman of his bondsman's license and placed him on probation.

But most fugitive recoveries are more mundane. Fabie recently drove to Oklahoma to pick up a defendant and return him to Lancaster for a DUI hearing he had missed.

The defendant's bail was $3,000. Fabie had collected $300, which did not cover the trip to Oklahoma and back.

"I lost money," he says. "It's not about that. It's about the principle. When I bail someone out, it's my responsibility to make sure he shows up for court."

Both men, particularly Fabie, have banged themselves up pursuing fleeing targets. Fabie recently pulled a muscle in his calf while chasing and tackling a former track star in a parking lot.

But they are still relatively young, and you can tell they enjoy the thrill of the occasional chase.

"These guys know not to run on Fabie or Drennen," Drennen says, "because we'll get you."

Original Article:
LancasterOnline.com
Skip bail and a bounty hunter dogs your trail
By JACK BRUBAKER, Staff Writer