Bondsmen are Starting to Bail Out
By Tony Castro, Staff Writer
In these hard economic times, bailing out criminals is getting almost as hard as bailing out Detroit automakers.
As fewer suspects and their families can post bail, they’re buying fewer bail bonds, which is causing many longtime bondsmen and - women to rethink the business.
Van Nuys-based bail bondsman Larry Goldberg said he’s seen some competitors around the Van Nuys courthouse shut their doors in recent months.
“The big companies are trying to reduce overhead as they try to get business,” said Goldberg. “I’m down 20 (percent) to 25 percent in business from a year ago, and I know others are hurting even worse.”
Some companies, his included, have had to resort to allowing people to be bailed out of jail on payment plans just to keep business, said Goldberg.
Although there are no industrywide figures available, a spokesman for the Los Angeles-based trade group AboutBail.com said member reports have been mixed.
But one bail bond company in the desert cited on the Web site mentioned that business had fallen 50 percent from a year ago.
“Some are facing very slow times,” said Adam Camras, co-founder of AboutBail. “Overall, we’re finding that (bail bond) agents are getting more calls from people who need to bail out someone or who need to be bailed out, although the ability of those people to qualify is decreasing because of what’s going on in the economy and in the real estate markets.”
In the past, when people were out of cash, they could always use the equity in their home as collateral. But fewer homeowners can count on that anymore.
“We’re turning down more clients because we’re not able to get the collateral we’re looking for,” said Jeff Chavez, co-owner of All American Bail Bonds in Van Nuys. “And we’re finding that we’re having to turn away more people than in the past.”
Tonya Rynerson, co-owner of a Van Nuys-based family bail bond business with offices throughout the San Fernando Valley, said she has seen the toll on families.
“On an average bail of $20,000, they’re having to put up 10 percent - $2,000 - and that may not be as easy right now,” she said.
“We’re seeing more people staying in jail, waiting to see a judge first to see if they can get off on their own recognizance or have their bail lowered. There’s more of a tendency of that now.”
But so far, there has not been a surge in the jail population.
A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman said there has been no overcrowding at the county jail recently because the jail population tends to decline during the holidays.
Meanwhile, bonding agents say they continue to feel the squeeze the economy is putting on potential clients.
Goldberg recounted a recent late-night phone call about an 18-year-old Glendale man arrested on a marijuana charge.
“When I called the father, who owned his own company, he said he didn’t have the money for (a bail bond),” said Goldberg. “He said his son would have to sit in jail for several days until his court date.”
Camras cited several instances in which homes put up for collateral dropped significantly in value, or were foreclosed on, before the case had been resolved by the courts.
“For a bail bondsman,” he said, “it’s your worst nightmare, especially if they don’t show up for court.”
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