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ExpertBail Agent Diane Tressa Challenging Bail Bond Stereotypes in Pittsburgh

Monday, November 28, 2011

For most people, the Holidays means taking time off from work and spending time with family and friends. But in the bail bond business, the Holidays are the never that relaxing.  Just ask ExpertBail Agent Diane Tressa of Diane Tressa Bail Bonds in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  According to Diane, "In the bail bond business, every day is a workday, with court dates to make, weekly check-ins to monitor and new clients calling in search of help before the ink on their fingertips has dried."

Diane Tressa is not just a bail agent but she is also an incredible person.  If you were to ever meet her, you would be taken back by her lack of typical bail bond agent attributes.  She does not have any tattoos, nor does she wear a bullet proof vest and gold chains.  She does however have a professional office with a staff and a beautiful conference room.  In other words she breaks every stereotype people have about the bail bond business...and we think that is a good thing.

Diane Tressa of Diane Tressa Bail Bonds

Read the recent story below written about Diane Tressa and her bail business in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Bail bond agent Diane Tressa defies stereotypes, helps clients 'put your feet back on the street'
Monday, November 28, 2011
By Erich Schwartzel, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When it came time to settle on a motto for her bail bonds business, Diane Tressa wanted to keep it positive.

Early business cards were shaped like poker pieces and read, "When the chips are down, we'll be around."

But now the tabletop advertisements or baseball caps that display her business's name show an open jail cell, or a foot with a smiley face in the arch.

The new slogan: "She'll put your feet back on the street."

The practice of getting people out of jail has never seemed adorable outside the world of "Monopoly." Ms. Tressa, however, has served as a professional babysitter and tough-love dispenser in the bail bond world for more than 20 years.

"I see it as being able to bring light to someone's darkest day," she said. "And every day is new."

Every day is also a work day, with court dates to make, weekly check-ins to monitor and new clients calling in search of help before the ink on their fingertips has dried.

"Some will say, 'Oh, you're a woman, so you'll be compassionate,' " she said.

Indeed, Ms. Tressa is serving as the courthouse middleman in an industry that popular culture assumes is loaded with not only men, but a certain kind of man.

"People expect a stogey, Stetson and Cadillac," said Ms. Tressa.

In fact, more than half of America's bail bond agents are women, said Eric Granof, chief outreach officer for ExpertBail, a California-based network of bail agents.

Sure, former U.S. marshals choose it as a second career, he said, but so do former schoolteachers. And a majority of bail bonds companies have been in the family for several generations, he said.

That's how Ms. Tressa got her start. Her cousin (also a woman) worked for a Pittsburgh bond agent, and suggested she take it up as a part-time job. At the time, Ms. Tressa worked in insurance and attended Robert Morris University toward a degree in information technology.

Robert Morris had a Downtown campus back then. Ms. Tressa would run across the street and get clients out of jail in between classes. She would rush back to lecture, where the professor would prod the tight-lipped agent for details.

Since her start in the 1990s, Ms. Tressa has fielded inquiries from friends and strangers about her job.

How did she get into this? (See above.)

Was she involved in the O.J. Simpson case? (No.)

What about the Jerry Sandusky case? (No.)

Most of the time she has to assure them it's not half as exciting as "Dog: The Bounty Hunter," an A&E television series that's become the 21st-century version of "Cops."

"I haven't had to hunt people for a long time," she said. "Most people don't leave Pittsburgh."

Still, to be closer to her clients, she opened up a Downtown office space in August that she shares with bankruptcy lawyers. ("I probably won't be sending them clients any time soon," she said.) Her website is http://thebail4u.com .

Ms. Tressa is currently licensed only in Allegheny County. The rules governing Pittsburgh bonds are different than those governing Philadelphia bonds, or even Greensburg bonds. Bonds are overseen by state departments of insurance, but bond regulation is done on a county-by-county basis.

In Philadelphia, for example, criminals pay a fee equal to 10 percent of the bond to the court and not a bail agent, eliminating the need for a private bond market.

In Pittsburgh, the average fee is usually lower than 10 percent because of competition, said Ms. Tressa.

Organizations like ExpertBail endorse private bail markets like Pittsburgh's, saying the system helps assure criminals will appear in court. For one thing: Grandma's house might be on the hook. For another: The bond agent stands to lose money because of an absence.

Ms. Tressa always considered her real office to be nothing more than the cellphone that accepts calls from jail any time of day, any day of the week.

With a phone call serving as a constant alarm clock, she can't really describe her evening activity as "sleep."

"We call it winking in this business!" she said.

Her cellphone bill is a weather vane of local crime; she can watch the frequency of certain offenses ebb and flow throughout the year.

Retail theft season starts with the new school year and continues through the holidays. Her most common offense is domestic violence.

The highest bond she has ever posted? $300,000 for an attempted shooting charge. The bond had to include property in the posting to make the cut.

Taking on a client usually means running a background check that searches for previously missed court dates or other pending bonds. But time is of the essence. Clients who call from jail usually weigh offers from several bail bond agents in the region, and often haggle for lower fees.

"The biggest thing they're looking for is speed," said Ms. Tressa, who typically fields the late-night calls from her home in Harmar.

"Route 28 is my best friend," she said.

Once the client is on board, Ms. Tressa will meet with a family member or friend who agrees to post bond. Sometimes they meet at her new office, or at the person's house, or even at a local eatery.

"Panera's the big one," she said.

All clients eventually come into the office to have a photo taken in case they need to be found later. Most don't smile, but she can get some to.

I see it as being able to bring light to someone's darkest day. And every day is new."
-- Diane Tressa


Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.

Cick here to see the original story on Diane Tressa.