fugitive apprehension

A moment with bail agent John Milano

A willingness to work hard and serve the public leads to success.

One quality that all thriving bail agents seem to share is a superlative work ethic. Hall-of-Fame bail agent Russell Faibisch is fond of winking at newly licensed bail bond agents and letting them in on the real secret to his success:

“One night I went to the jail. Seven years later I went home.”

Florida bail agent John Milano seems to be cut from the same bolt of cloth. Milano is always working. We spent time recently with Milano at one of his Florida bail offices. Between taking phone calls and meeting with indemnitors, we discussed the myth of poor people languishing in jail and how come you never see pretrial release employees at the jail after 5pm.  After he finished laughing, he also had a few things to say in response to the fabricated claim that bondsman don’t actually locate, apprehend and surrender their bail skips.

“They broke the law and many times they don’t want to face the music.”

Milano works during all hours of the day and night to help people to secure the release of their accused friends and family members. He routinely works with multiple family members in order to post small as well as more lucrative larger bonds.

With the posting of each bail bond he writes, Milano guarantees the State of Florida that his defendants will appear in court. He notifies each client of his or her court date. When a defendant fails to appear in court and absconds, Milano and his staff of licensed bail agents locate, apprehend and surrender the fugitive back to the county jail. On the rare occasions when they fail to accomplish this in a timely manner they pay the state a substantial penalty.

Milano — like all other private bail agents — does not charge the taxpayers anything to perform this invaluable role in our criminal justice system.

A moment with bail agents Kenneth Holmes and Phil Woods

A few (two) good men equals a few hundred fewer fugitives.

The only way that the advocates of publicly funded “free” pretrial release programs can sell their poppycock to rational policymakers is by using a few whopping bold-faced lies, which they repeat over and over to anyone who will listen. Here are a few of their key lies:

  • Bail agents don’t pay when their bond principals remain fugitives;
  • Bail agents don’t have to arrest fugitives (Because after all there are police and active warrants!);
  • There is no difference in court appearance rates between defendants released pretrial on secured bail and those who are released on unsecured bail where no one is financially responsible for the defendant’s appearance.

Each of these statements are false and easily disproved but it’s hard to make their “bail reform” proposals palatable without the use of such deceits. (If they don’t lie, the pretrial release zealots are left with: “Hey, let’s replace a private business that performs effectively with a government agency that doesn’t!”)

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with Tennessee bail agents Kenneth Holmes and Phil Woods. These two young men served honorably together in the United States Marine Corps. After a tour of duty in Afghanistan, they returned home and settled in Knoxville, Tennessee. There they met a bail agent, who had also served in the US Marine Corps. The bail agent gave Kenneth and Phil an opportunity consisting of a few hundred defendant files.

In six months’ time, newly Tennessee licensed bail agents Kenneth Holmes and Phil Woods accomplished the surrender of approximately two hundred fugitives who had missed their court dates. I am proud to work in a profession with fine young men like these. These two United States Marines returned from duty in Afghanistan and now serve the courts of Tennessee by returning fugitives to justice.

This week’s hare-brained alternative to Real Accountability

Just ask the fugitives to pretty please come to court.

The preface: What we do is simple. We secure the pretrial release of accused defendants by entering into a written agreement with the State. This agreement (called a bail bond) guarantees the State that we will have the accused defendant in court each and every time as required in order for their criminal case to be adjudicated. If the defendant fails to appear and becomes a fugitive, we go out and locate, apprehend and surrender him or her back to the jurisdiction of the court. If we fail in this obligation, we pay a substantial cash penalty to the State, usually an amount equal to 1,000% of what we grossed for writing the bond. We are excellent at what we do, since bondsman who fail in their obligations quickly go out of business. In summary:

  • We secure their release from jail and pledge real money to the State to secure their appearance.
  • When a defendant fails to appear we locate, apprehend, and surrender them to jail.
  • In the rare cases where we are unable to arrest and return the fugitive, we pay a substantial cash penalty to the State.

We do this quietly and efficiently and at no cost to the taxpayers. We don’t bill the State for all the days that our defendants are not taking up jail space, nor do we bill taxpayers for routinely arresting and returning our bail skips. We play a vital role in the criminal justice system.

When you remove real accountability from pretrial release decisions, the results are predictable.

For example, in Philadelphia, where the courts routinely utilize government-run bail schemes instead of financially secured pretrial releases, defendants fail to appear in great numbers and no one is held accountable.

In December of 2009 The Inquirer reported that Philadelphia’s court system was in complete disarray. In an outstanding special report titled Justice: Delayed, Dismissed, Denied, they reported that some 47,000 wanted fugitives were on the street:

“The court’s bail system is broken. Defendants skip court with impunity, further traumatizing victims who show up for hearings that never take place.

There are almost 47,000 Philadelphia fugitives on the streets. Philadelphia is tied with Essex County, N.J. – home of Newark – for the nation’s highest fugitive rate. To catch them, the city court system employs just 51 officers – a caseload of more than 900 fugitives per officer.

In a sign of the system’s disarray, court officials had trouble answering when The Inquirer asked how much fugitives owed taxpayers in forfeited bail. At first, they said the debt was $2 million. Then they pegged it at $382 million. Finally, they declared it was a staggering $1 billion.”

The solution to having so many fugitives would seem obvious. Hire additional officers to go locate and arrest these criminals. And stop releasing defendants on unsecured fantasy bail bonds where no one is held accountable for their appearance in court. Instead, Philadelphia officials had a better idea. They simply erased 19,400 warrants from the system. Seriously. From the Inquirer:

“But in a sweeping move to lower Philadelphia’s staggering tally of 47,000 fugitives, top court officials have quietly dropped criminal charges against Sanchez and more than 19,000 other defendants who skipped court.

At the urging of Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and District Attorney Seth Williams, Philadelphia judges closed criminal cases and canceled fugitive bench warrants for thousands of accused drug dealers, drunken drivers, thieves, prostitutes, sex offenders, burglars, and other suspects.

“They were clogging up the system,” said Castille, a former Philadelphia district attorney. “You’re never going to find these people. And if you do, are you going to prosecute them? The answer is no.”

Of course the Inquirer was able to find some of these fugitives.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Reginald Newkirk, who had been facing two drunken-driving charges. Reached at his current home in Watha, N.C., Newkirk was told that the charges had been withdrawn. “I’m glad to hear that.”

In Newkirk’s 1991 arrests, police determined that his blood-alcohol levels were 0.273 and 0.277 – almost three times the legal threshold for intoxication at the time. Asked whether he had been drunk at the time, Newkirk, now 61, replied, “More or less.”

Another fugitive, Alfred Carter, who fled in 1989 before he was sentenced for a strong-arm robbery, is now living in Washington.

His conviction was set aside in an attack in which he admitted he left his victim dazed, weeping, and bleeding on a sidewalk in West Philadelphia.

“That’s good,” said Carter, 60. “I’m glad it’s dropped.”

And what about the nearly $1 billion owed by bail jumpers and their families who signed? Like the warrants, Philadelphia officials just pushed a button and made the problem disappear.

“In a single act, nearly $1 billion in debt owed to Philadelphia by onetime fugitives has disappeared.

Philadelphia’s court system, at the request of the city, wiped off the books longtime debt owed by tens of thousands of criminal defendants who failed to appear for their court dates.”

The order follows extensive reforms that came after The Inquirer published a series of articles in 2010 that shed light on widespread systemic problems in the city courts, including an ineffective bail system that for decades imposed no consequences for skipping court.

Criminal defendants are required to post 10 percent of bail in cash to earn release. Before recent court reforms, many routinely fled – on paper forfeiting the remaining 90 percent owed – but in practice little was done to catch them or collect the debt.”

In summary, Philadelphia has tens of thousands of fugitives because they are released from jail on unsecured bonds with no financial incentive to appear in court and no real accountability. Their solution to this horrendous problem was to purge the warrants and pretend that it never happened. Score one for the criminals; the accused defendants who actually went to court were saps. The same environment created $1 billion in uncollected (and unsecured) bail forfeitures. Philadelphia officials had a similar solution. They pushed a button and made the $1 billion in fantasy bail forfeitures disappear. Score another win for the criminals.

In Florida, where I live and write bail for a living, I have 60-days in which to timely satisfy a bail forfeiture, either by producing the fugitive defendant or by paying the forfeited bail amount. If I fail to do, I am prohibited from writing additional bail. I am literally put out-of-business for failing my obligation to the State. In addition, a civil judgment is entered against me and against the insurance company that backs my bail. If the insurance company fails to pay the judgment timely, they are prohibited from writing any bail. This is called accountability.

You would think that Philadelphia — in the light of the consequences of their experience with unsecured bail with no real accountability — would be open to instituting a pretrial release system with secured, financially accountable bail. You would be wrong.

Which brings us to our whack-job of the week. Cherise Fanno Burdeen. Cherise Fanno Burdeen is the Executive Director of an outfit called “Pretrial Justice Institute”. Ms. Burdeen is a staunch detractor of “money” bail. (Her position on “money” grocery stores and “money” police officers is unknown at this time.)

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, Just say "pretty please!"

Cherise Fanno Burdeen,
Just say “pretty please!”

Cherise Fanno Burdeen has a better idea than secured pretrial releases and real accountability. She thinks we are missing the point if we have the nerve to actually jail criminals who fail to appear for court. Here is what she told the Inquirer:

“The vast majority of people who fail to appear in court are not . . . trying to evade justice. For the most part, these are people who the courts don’t provide robust reminder systems, much like you or I get for haircuts or doctor’s appointments. The courts didn’t provide practices that doctors’ offices and salons learned a long time ago can nearly eradicate failure to appear.”

So if you are a bondsman who can’t celebrate Memorial Day Weekend with your family because you are busy chasing down a wanted fugitive, keep in mind that it’s your own fault. According to this dingbat Cherise Fanno Burdeen, you should have sent your client a friendly reminder and simply asked him respectfully and politely to “pretty please” go to his court date.

Amazingly , according to the Inquirer, Philadelphia now intends to actually use this mild-mannered lame-brained and naïve approach. 

When the number of open felony warrants sky rockets once again, city officials will know exactly what to do.

A few moments with bail bondsman Marco Polo Vital on being in the appearance business

Advocates of publicly funded pretrial release programs would have us believe that defendants who are released from jail pretrial simply need a friendly reminder of their court dates. In total disregard of the truth, they continue to tell gullible policymakers, politicians and judges that accused criminals can be trusted to appear in court as required. They argue that secured, private bail in which a bail agent is held accountable for the defendant’s appearance can be replaced with an expensive, ineffective government program that sends out court date notices.

Private bail agents, such as Marco Polo Vital, know that this is bunk. Vital has been a bondsman for 9-years in Broward County, Florida. He writes bail in Miami-Dade as well as Fort Lauderdale.

“Some you have to call; some are knuckleheads.”

Gainesville bail bondsman tracks down his fugitive to a remote pot farm on the other side of the country.

Score one for the good guys. There was an outstanding story published last week in the Gainesville Sun. Hats off to reporter Morgan Watkins for writing a great article about Gainesville bail agent Richard Roundtree and his successful efforts to return a fugitive to justice.

Richard Roundtree is a second-generation bondsman, who owns the bail agency that his father founded in 1956. Roundtree was born in Gainesville, Florida and has been writing bail there since 1978.

Bondsman Richard Roundtree

Bail Bond Agent Richard Roundtree

The Gainesville Sun article highlights some very important concepts. Secured private bail is not about releasing defendants from jail but rather it is an obligation to produce the defendant in court. Bail agent Richard Roundtree posted a $150,000.00 bail bond to secure the appearance of Darren Enoch Duck to face charges of trafficking in Ecstacy.

When Duck absconded, bondsman Roundtree had to locate, apprehend and surrender him back to the custody of the Alachua County Sheriff within 60-days of his failure to appear in court. Since Roundtree was unable to accomplish that in order to fulfill his obligation on the bond, Roundtree paid a substantial penalty — the entire $150,000 face amount of the forfeited bail bond. As the article points out, Roundtree had to use his retirement savings to help pay for the forfeited bond.

At this point, it is a safe bet that Roundtree was more motivated than any person on the planet to bring back Darren Enoch Duck to face justice. Alachua County, Florida has many outstanding deputies and police officers but it is unlikely that any lost sleep over Duck’s whereabouts. “I lost a lot of sleep over this one,” said Roundtree.

Private secured bail is so effective for precisely the reasons highlighted in this case. Roundtree had a very strong vested financial interest in bringing his fugitive back. He spent untold hours and over $36,000 of his own hard-earned money on this case. He eventually enlisted the services of fellow Florida bail agent Rolando Betancourt to help track down this fugitive. Betancourt, who has traveled all across the world to return bail skips, spent 46 days on the road tracking Duck. Betancourt ultimately succeeded in locating Duck and causing his arrest in California.

The Alachua County Sheriff sent deputies to California to retrieve Duck and return him in their custody to Gainesville, Florida for prosecution. Guess who reimbursed the Sheriff for the cost of this trip?  Bail agent Roundtree paid $2,277 to reimburse the Sheriff for their costs incurred in bringing Duck back. His obligation was to have the defendant appear in court in Gainesville, Florida. Roundtree did his job.

Not a dead duck but a captured Duck

Not a dead duck but a captured Duck

Articles like this one are uncommon, but the practices outlined take place every day. Bail agents guarantee the appearance in court of their defendants.  Most of the time, bail agents are able to have their clients in court as required. When a client fails to appear, the bail agent locates, apprehends and surrenders them back to the jail. If they are unable to accomplish this in time — as was the case with bail agent Roundtree — they pay the state a substantial penalty. Since Florida allows bail agents to recover some of their forfeited bail money for up to two years, bail agents continue to look for and capture fugitives.

A moment with bail bond agent Jackie Parker — he’s in the appearance business

Advocates of publicly funded pretrial release programs would have us believe that defendants who are released from jail pretrial simply need a friendly reminder of their court dates. In total disregard of the truth, they continue to tell gullible policymakers, politicians and judges that accused criminals can be trusted to appear in court as required. They argue that secured, private bail in which a bail agent is held accountable for the defendants’s appearance can be replaced with a government program that sends out court date notices.

Private bail agents, such as Jackie Parker, know that this is bunk. Parker has been a bondsman for 20-years in Greenville, North Carolina.

 

Shooting in St. Petersburg, Florida puts private bail into spotlight

Tragically, during the recent apprehension of a fugitive felon, a woman named Vonceia Welch was shot. First news reports suggest that the shooting was accidental. Welch was a passenger in the same car as a fugitive who was being sought by bail agents. The fugitive, Deveon Stokes, was taken into custody. The driver of the car, Joshua Allonso Malone, was also a wanted fugitive and was arrested by police after the shooting.

News reports state that a team of 3 or 4 bail agents caught up with their fugitive in a car at the drive-up window of a St. Petersburg McDonalds. When the bail agents surrounded and approached the car a gun was discharged and Welch was injured.

The man they were after, Stokes, has a lengthy criminal history dating to 2007. He served 20 months in prison on charges of extortion and grand theft of a motor vehicle. He was released in May 2014, and was arrested a month later, and this time accused of cocaine possession. His most recent arrest was in June. When he failed to appear for a pretrial hearing on his drug case, a new warrant for his arrest was issued and his $21,000 bond was forfeited by the court. Malone, the sedan’s driver, was wanted on unrelated aggravated assault and firearm possession charges from an Oct. 19 incident where police said he shot at three people, one of them a toddler. By any reasonable measuring stick, these two are each bad actors and potentially very dangerous criminals.

None of this, of course, justifies the shooting of the car’s other passenger, Vonceia Welch. No one yet knows for certain what took place when the shooting occurred. The state is looking into the possibility of criminal charges against the bail agent who fired the shoot. There almost certainly will follow civil actions. The facts are not yet known, and an investigation by the police and state attorney is underway.

The absence of any direct knowledge of the situation hasn’t deterred one of commercial bail’s most vociferous critics from weighing in with his special brand of utter nonsense. Timothy Murray, a hypocrite who for decades fronted a publicly-funded DC outfit called “The Pretrial Justice Institute,” felt compelled to weigh in on this tragedy in order to promote his lame-brained agenda. Murray called the shooting “tragically emblematic of how broken the cash bail bond system is.”

Tim Murray, a disingenuous hypocrite

Tim Murray, a disingenuous hypocrite

“It [money bail] was never designed to make the community safe. There is no accountability,” he said, adding that bail money goes “directly into the pockets of businessmen.”

Murray went on to say that the system is supposed to guarantee someone who has made bail shows up to court. But it doesn’t work, he said, otherwise bond agents wouldn’t have anyone to chase. “The very thing that was supposed to assure his appearance — cash on the table — he didn’t do it,” he said.

Even Murray cannot possibly be stupid or obtuse enough to believe what he is saying. Rather, he is being purposefully disingenuous by claiming that if commercial bail worked, bail agents wouldn’t have to “chase” fugitives. Murray disregards that this is precisely why commercial secured bail works — because bail agents have a vested financial interest in making certain that their defendants appear in court.

Regardless of the tragedy that took place, this team of bail agents risked their own lives in order to bring a dangerous fugitive to justice. The reason they apprehended and arrested Deveon Stokes and returned him to the Pinellas County jail is to avoid paying a $21,000 penalty for failing to fulfill their obligation to the state of Florida on the bond.

For decades, Tim Murray has advocated for the “free” pretrial release of accused criminals. The most significant problem with this approach beyond the waste of tax dollars needed in order to staff these ineffective government programs is that when a defendant fails to appear in court, no one is held accountable. It’s a sucker’s bet that Tim Murray and his fellow “free bail” zealots will never be involved in a shooting during the apprehension of a fugitive. This is because they don’t ever attempt to bring back fugitives. If you ask one of these free pretrial advocates “what do you do when they fail to appear in court?” you are most often met with a glassy-eyed, dumbfounded stare. Typically, they will shrug and guess that since a warrant is issued, maybe the police will make an arrest?

Timmy Murray started out his career — the entirety of which seems to have been spent on the public dole — in Miami-Dade County, Florida where he helped set up the nation’s first drug court. For 14 years he headed up the county’s “free” pretrial release program, and affected the wholesale release from jail of thousands of accused felons. As a result, Miami-Dade County currently has literally tens of thousands of open felony warrants and a budget that only allows law enforcement to actively seek out the worst of the worst.  Drug court is considered by many criminals as a complete joke – they know they will be released from jail for free and that there will be little or no consequences for non-compliance. The program allows defendants to get of jail for free and to commit violations over and over and over again with virtually no consequence. No one is held accountable for their non-appearance in court.

Murray also never misses an opportunity (like this shooting) to rant his misguided belief that commercial secured bail keeps poor low level offenders “trapped” in jail while those with money have a way out – even when facing more serious charges. This is complete bunk. Deveon Stokes is not affluent yet he and his family were easily able to obtain the services of a bail agent to secure his release from jail. Bail agents routinely allow their clients to make payments. The family of the accused (as opposed to the taxpayers) pays a small percentage of the bail. However, the bail agent pledges the entire amount ($21,000 in this case) to the state as security. If the bail agent fails to produce the defendant he or she pays a substantial penalty to the state.

In contrast to Murray’s drivel, the reporter also sought out St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway who said that police generally have a “very good working relationship” with bail bondsmen.

The reporter also contacted Armando Roche, past president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States.”The arrest by bail bondsmen of people that fail to go to court occurs every single day across this country,” he said. “Not to the extent of what happened in St. Pete today, but these arrests are effectuated every day.”

Typically, when an accused criminal fails to appear as required in court, a judge issues a warrant for their arrest. If the defendant is on a secured commercial bail, a bail agent goes looking for them, makes an arrest and brings them back to custody. If they are released via one of Tim Murray’s government programs, a warrant is issued and hopefully the defendant will one day run into law enforcement.

Which alternative is a better deal for taxpayers?