Being a bail bondsman often risky business
Bail bondsman Steve Robson doesn’t deal with many nice guys.
In 2007, he wrote an $850,000 bond for former Kansas University student Matthew Jaeger, who had been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and mutilating his ex-girlfriend.
“We deal with probably the worst of the worst,” said Robson, the owner of Ace Bail Bonds.
With Jaeger’s extraordinarily high bond, Robson took extra precautions.
Jaeger’s parents paid a nonrefundable 10 percent fee and had to put up their house for collateral. Jaeger was also under house arrest, which his family had to pay out of pocket. At about $20 a day, his house arrest ended up costing about $14,000.
“We monitored for almost two years every move this guy made,” Robson said.
If you are arrested in Douglas County, and a judge grants you bail, you have three options. You can stay in jail, you can pay the bond yourself, or you can call someone like Robson.
For a nonrefundable 10 percent fee, Robson or one of his employees might agree to take you on as a client. They’ll spring you from jail and, in turn, become liable for the cost of the entire bond if you don’t show up for court.
But before they take you on, you’ll have to answer the important questions: Will you show up at court? Do you have a stable job? Will a friend or family member put up collateral in case you skip bail?
“You get good at reading people over the phone,” Robson said. “Every unemployed guy in jail says he owns his own construction business or works construction.”
If you don’t show, they will come after you. After all, it’s their money on the line.
Nine out of 10 times, it doesn’t take a foot chase or handcuffs for a bail bondsman to bring in a “skip,” a client who has skipped a court date. A phone call or a visit is all it takes to bring them in.
William, a bondsman at Able Bail Bonds, said many clients just forget, or have so many court dates that they get mixed up.
“There are career criminals, but I think 90 percent of the guys in the local jail have just made a bad decision along the way,” said William, who did not want his last name printed for safety reasons.
When one of Robson’s clients does skip bail, his team starts working the phones, finding out where the skip might be hiding. They use information from paid informants, acquaintances of the client and occasionally local police.
When they discover the client’s location, they may bring along handcuffs or a Taser, though they’ve never had to use the latter. They are licensed to carry firearms, though they rarely do.
Mostly, a good pickup is about gathering information, having a good plan, then waiting to execute it. A car chase isn’t necessary if you have the right information.
“It’s all about outsmarting them,” Robson said.
Robson’s 27-year-old son, Brock Robson, is an integral part of his father’s business. In his younger days, he once posed as the boyfriend of an informant to get close to a skip. These days, he is in charge of pickups and the Ace Bail Bond’s house-arrest clients.
Brock once left to apprehend someone in Dallas at 6 p.m. He arrived about 6 a.m. the next day, and the person he was seeking was asleep on the floor, right where Brock had heard she would be. Brock put the client in the car and drove right back to Kansas.
Brock said sometimes a bondsman’s life can run right on time, but there are also hours of sitting in parked cars, fighting off sleep.
The tough ones
The bondsmen interviewed for this story said their jobs were not as dramatic as it’s portrayed on TV. But each had been in potentially deadly situations.
Robson and Brock once tracked a client to a crack house in Kansas City.
Men eyed the bondsmen when they walked in. One man left the house and returned wearing a bulletproof vest.
“That was unsettling,” Brock said.
Father and son searched the house and found little kids playing video games. It turned out the crack house was doubling as a foster home.
Robson and Brock found their man on the third floor, but he jumped down a laundry chute. They caught up with him on the bottom floor, but were stopped by a group of men at the front door, who asked the man if he wanted them to “take care of it,” but he said no.
When Robson and Brock got the man in the car, they asked him what that exchange had been about.
“If I had told them to take care of it, they would have shot you right there on the spot,” the man said.
He had saved their lives, even though capture meant he would be going to prison for a long time.
Sitting in the jail’s booking room that night, Robson and Brock watched the man vomit because he was so nervous to be back in custody.
William, of Able Bail Bonds, said he nearly always carries a gun with him because he has been confronted by former clients he had brought back to jail.
“Whenever I go into a restaurant with my family, the first thing I do is scope it out to make sure there’s no one I’ve put back in jail,” William said.
Recently, he and two partners tracked a skip to a bad part of Topeka and had to pull out his gun when the man tried to fight them.
The new ventures
William’s commissions are down $12,000 this year, and Robson too said business had slowed with the economy.
“The criminals haven’t slowed down, but the money to get them out of jail, they don’t have it like they used to.”
Ten years ago, when Robson started out, it was normal for him to write 30 bonds a week just on his own. Now the four or five men he has writing bonds in Douglas County do only 15 a week combined.
But the company has branched out. Ace Bail Bonds is doing more house arrest monitoring, and at any given time have 800 ignition interlock devices on the streets. They install the devices, which prevent a car from starting without a passed sobriety check, all over the state.
Robson estimated the interlock business accounts for 60 percent of his revenue now, and he expects it to grow with the recently passed Kansas law mandating devices for first-time DUI offenders.
“This last year in the state of Kansas, there were 8,000 first-time DUIs. That’s 8,000 more customers this following year.”
Even as the bail bonds part of the business slows, Robson remains vigilant when it comes to the safety of his employees. He said no bond in the world is worth a life, and when things get too sketchy, it’s policy to turn around and try again later.
“Me and Brock have been in some bad situations,” Robson said. “We’ve been threatened. We’ve been fought with. We’ve been in about anything you can get in. But it’s part of the job, and you have to do what you have to do.”