Posted November 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President
Indianapolis, IN - I was watching another electrifying episode of American Pickers last night when my phone rang. I hit pause just as Mike Wolf was about to make an offer on a rusty Harley-Davidson bicycle frame. The call came in from Memphis. A high value fugitive was spotted living in a low rent hotel within ten miles of the Shelby County Jail.
I had received a number of similar, “I know where AC is located” calls since the time Austin Carter failed to appear for sentencing in June, 2011. Carter was looking at a lengthy prison sentence for multiple counts of attempted first degree murder, aggravated assault and using a firearm with intent to commit a felony. He allegedly attempted to kill his wife and kids.
Austin Carter is a really bad guy and we needed to get him back into custody. Not only to avoid $250,000 loss but because it’s our job. It’s what bail agents do.
During the thirty months Carter has been at large we had assigned the case to no fewer than four recovery teams working leads in Atlanta, Chicago, North Carolina and Mississippi. Carter proved elusive. These recovery teams enjoyed the cooperation of local law enforcement and the U.S. Marshall’s Office. Everyone wanted this guy off the streets.
The forfeiture period eventually ran out and the bond had to be paid. That didn’t slow us down. Tennessee law provides for a remission, refund that incentivizes the surety to continue its efforts to locate and return the defendant to the custody of the court.
Well, it turns out the tip was correct. Carter was staying in a local hotel damn near in the shadow of the Shelby County Jail. Because Carter was known to be armed and dangerous, our recovery agent requested assistance from the Memphis Police Department Fugitive Task Force who expertly hit the motel room and took Austin Carter into custody without incident.
Victims of crime are often overlooked when a criminal defendant fails to appear for court. Carter was charged with attempting to kill his wife and kids. They have had to live everyday of the last thirty months with the fear Austin Carter was roaming free. I’m sure the stress was unimaginable. This fact was not lost on us. Everyone benefits when the surety performs.
After several hundred man hours and thousands of dollars of private sector money spent, the Shelby County Jail welcomed back Austin Carter to their cozy confines last night about 11:40 p.m. The lecture he’s sure to receive from the presiding judge will be the least of his worries.
With that done, it was back to Mike Wolf and that Harley-Davidson bicycle frame. I can’t believe he paid $400 for that bucket of rust.
Posted November 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President
Washington State, the only state to be named after a United States president, is home to Microsoft, Starbucks and the Green Darner Dragonfly. It’s also home to some of the best bail agents in the country.
Becky Magnuson is one such bail agent. She’s a married mother of two and the owner of Able Bail Bonds in Kennewick, Washington. A licensed bail and recovery agent since 1997, Becky has been affiliated with American Surety Company since 2002.
Becky is not afraid of hard work and is overtly passionate about her chosen profession, bail. Not only is she running her own business, Becky also volunteers her time as the Treasurer of the Washington State Bail Agents Association and as the Greater Northwest Director for the Professional Bail Agents of the United States. As a regular attendee at PBUS conferences I can attest Becky is a regular attendee as well. Her energy is limitless.
Becky and her family endured a personal and professional challenge earlier this year when a fire destroyed most of her office and its contents. Becky spoke about this difficult period at the recent WSBAA meeting in Spokane.
The fire occurred earlier this year and several months later Becky is still trying to get back into her original location. Becky spoke specifically about the actions she needed to take even while the firefighters were putting out the fire. Her first concern was to make sure no one was hurt, nobody was injured. Her second concern was gathering her client files. Fortunately, these files were kept in fireproof cabinets and were fully preserved.
Maintaining her client records using an internet agency management program also proved prescient. Client information is the lifeblood of any business and to lose this data would have been devastating. This information is essential for continued service to her clients who are all dealing with their own life struggles. Becky did not lose site of this important fact.
So, in addition to managing a business that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Becky now had to be a general contract overseeing the rebuilding of her office, deal with insurance companies and make sure there was no interruption of her business to prevent further loss. Becky is the first point out this could not have been done without the support of her husband Erik, her staff, family and friends.
Becky is a survivor and this adversity will not set her back. She even took the time to attend this recent meeting of the WSBAA knowing her renovated office would be ready for occupying next week.
It is business professionals like Becky Manguson who epitomize the quality and characteristics we look for in our leaders. It makes me proud to be a member of the same profession, a profession that is comprised of professional, goal oriented individuals intent on running a successful business and providing for their families. I tip my hat to you Ms. Magnuson, you’re the real deal.
Posted November 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President
Bail agents are constantly being depicted in a poor light as shady and untrustworthy. Typically, those casting aspersions are ignorant of exactly what a bail agent does, their function and purpose.
Earlier this week a Denver area bail agent recounted on his Facebook page an experience he had in court. He had arrived early to a court hearing in Adams County. The judge and criminal attorney, unaware the bail agent was in the court room and believing he was a no-show, began making derogatory comments about bail agents in general. This agent, stood up, approached the bench and said he had been in court since 8 a.m. and he didn’t appreciate the remarks being made in open court. The courtroom fell silent.
I read this post and it really set me off. Judges, criminal attorneys and bail agents are all cogs in the wheel of criminal justice. We all have a job to do and a function to serve. A judge oversees each case, officiating and making sure the law is followed. A criminal attorney represents the accused and the bail agent makes sure the defendant is in court, whenever required.
The judge, criminal attorney and prosecutor have nothing to do if the defendant is not present for court. I guess that makes the bail agent’s job pretty important. A bail agent’s role is also distinctive in that of all the parties involved, the bail agent is the one person who suffers a financial loss if they do not perform. Everyone takes this for granted, not the bail agent.
While a licensed bail agent, I don’t write retail bail. I suppose if I did, I would make it a practice to make my presence known around the courthouse. Not in search of clients but in support of existing clients. It’s not always easy to attend each client’s court appearance. It is possible, in most cases, to attend arraignments and trials.
It’s important the court is aware of who is getting these defendants to court. If your judges don’t know who you are, shame on you. The judges know most criminal attorneys. Heck, they know most defendants. Do they know you?
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Nancy Russo has often said she can pick up the phone at anytime and reach one of her Cleveland area bail agents because she knows them and they know her. There is a professional relationship between Judge Russo and “her” bail agents.
Judges, criminal attorneys and prosecutors would be less likely to speak ill of bail agents if they knew them personally. Bail agents should take the initiative and get to know their judges and prosecutors. I’m sure like bail agents, they’re generally nice people and professionals. Make sure you’re adequately representing yourself and your profession.
Posted October 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President
One of my favorite TV shows is the HBO mythological series Game of Thrones. For those of you who watch this series you’re familiar with the oft stated ominous warning of dread, “winter is coming”. In the Game of Thrones winter can last ten years. Well, winter is coming to the commercial bail bond industry and that’s no myth.
The Indiana Legislature’s Commission on Courts held its final hearing of this summer study committee earlier this week. Senator Brent Steele, Chair of the Commission, proposed changes to the statue that would in part allow a criminal defendant to choose how they want to secure their bond.
Indiana Supreme Court Justice Brent Dickson and members of the Commission spoke in opposition to the proposed bill expressing concern the proposed changes would prevent a defendant from being released on their own recognizance. Not so, said Senator Steele.
Justice Dickson went on to read NAPSA talking points in support of risk assessment tools. These magical tools would empower judges or their proxies to make decisions on the type of release option that would determine the likelihood of a defendant reappearing for court. There was no mention of what would happen when a defendant failed to appear. Winter is coming.
On the east coast, New Jersey, The Garden State, is considering legislation that would keep aggravated criminal offenders in jail pending trial and release all other offenders on their own recognizance. Should this legislative effort succeed, the negative fiscal impact on this state would be immense and the increase in crime unprecedented. Winter is coming.
The State of California has been dealing with the fallout of AB 109 for several years now. AB 109 was this State’s answer to the court ordered reduction of the state prison population. The early release of tens of thousands of convicted felons to local California communities has not gone well, to say the least. Crime is up significantly, parole officers are overwhelmed and public safety under attack. Winter is coming.
While several state and local governments devise plans to take over the pretrial system of bail from the private sector commercial bail agent and place it on the backs of the taxpayers, bail agents are going about the business of the day, getting their clients to court.
Earlier this week Indiana recovery agents working for Ace Bail Bonds apprehended fugitive Daniel Pennington. Pennington, who was hiding on a farm in Southern Michigan, had failed to appear for sentencing in a case where he was charged with running over 19 month old Mariah Gibson with his truck.
Pennington, who has begun serving his 23 year prison sentence, was at large for several months before being apprehended by bail recovery agents. Bail agents are motivated by the threat of financial loss, personal pride and duty, to bring fugitives back to court. These characteristics are totally lacking in any government run pretrial release program that operates without risk or accountability.
Winter may be coming; however, as long as members of the commercial bail industry continue to remain cohesive and diligent we can prevent winter from arriving.
South Carolina Bail Agent Association
I attended the SCBAA fall meeting in Columbia earlier this week. The primary issue of discussion centered around South Carolina Department of Insurance Bulletin 2013-10 released October 10, 2013.
The SCDOI’s Willie Seawright spoke to a packed room at the Embassy Suites addressing questions on Bulletin 2013-10. Yes, surety bail agents must begin remitting premiums to their surety company within thirty days of the execution of the bond. Yes, surety bail agents must notate the gross premium charged on the home office copy of the power of attorney. This is necessary for calculating the premium tax the surety pays the state. Yes, surety companies must timely report any violations to the SCDOI.
Mr. Seawright went on to say there is no such thing as a lost power of attorney. The surety will be charged premium tax on the face amount of each lost power which means the surety bail agent can expect to pay their surety on any power reported to be lost or stolen.
The SCDOI will be reminding the State’s General Sessions Courts to begin charging the $10.00 bond fee per bond. Apparently this has been overlooked by some courts.
Finally, don’t forget to report any change of address to the SCDOI. Failing to do so will cost you $2500. Ouch!
Posted October 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President
San Antonio, Texas - This is the last 4th quarter meeting for Professional Bondsmen of Texas, at least for the foreseeable future. Beginning next year this venerable Texas bondsmen association will move to just two meetings a year. Meetings are expected to be held in the Spring and Fall.
Scott Walstad of Dallas is the head of this association and has done a fine job guiding the PBT board through fiscal reform. Reducing the number of meetings from four to two is one such example of cost control.
Most associations receive financial support through membership dues and continuing education. It’s in the best interest of Texas bondsmen to obtain their required CE hours through a PBT sponsored class, as their tuition goes towards efforts to protect and preserve their profession.
The PBT Legislative Committee, currently chaired by Wynn "Doc" Dillard, has demonstrated time and again its effectiveness in keeping vigil on the Statehouse and efforts to erode commercial bail in Texas. A lobbying team is one such expense PBT membership dues serve to underwrite.
If you were unable to attend the year-end meeting last week in San Antonio you missed a great event. This annual meeting included a golf outing, auction, continuing education and a visit from The Mayberry Deputy, a Don Knott’s look alike who stayed in character the entire meeting and performed for a hilarious 30 minutes.
Texas bondsmen do themselves a favor being a member and supporting their state bail association. Tell them I sent you.