Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Help Me Howard: Bail Bondsman
I hope you have never been arrested, but if you have, you know how important a bail bondsman can be. Without them, you could sit in jail for weeks or months. But one South Florida family says the only thing sitting for months is their money: in the bondsman's bank account, which is why they called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser to bail them out.
WSVN -- Zelma Cooper loves her family.
Zelma Cooper: "I have three kids: a 19-year-old, 16 and 13."
Dale is the oldest and has his own child. But recently, the 19-year-old got in trouble after a fight with his girlfriend.
Zelma Cooper: "They had an argument, and they said that he pushed her, and she called the police, and he got arrested."
Dale was jailed and charged with battery, sending Zelma searching for a bondsman to bail him out.
Zelma Cooper: "I went online looking to post bond for him, and I came across that bond company."
Dale's bond was $1,000. Normally, a bondsman will charge a 10 percent fee to post the bond, $100 in this case. But if they think the suspect might not show up in court, they collect more.
Zelma Cooper: "He told me I had to put 50 percent down, and after the case is finished, I would get a refund of the $400."
Zelma put up the 50 percent, or $500. Then, the case against Dale was dismissed, so she thought the bail bondsman would keep his fee and she would get the $400 back. She was wrong.
Zelma Cooper: "I've been trying to get this refund since April, and it hasn't happened yet."
Zelma has tried calling the bondsman again and again. After that failed, she went to his office.
Zelma Cooper: "And that's when they told me it would take them 21 days to process the refund."
Of course if they had paid, Zelma wouldn't be on your TV right now. And she is clearly frustrated.
Zelma Cooper: "It's not a good feeling. It makes me feel like they keep lying to me every time I call. I don't think they really care about the people that's involved."
Well Howard, the bail bond business can be complicated, but legally, can the bondsman keep the money he said he would return?
Howard Finkelstein: "Ten percent goes to the bondsman. The rest is what's called collateral to protect the bondsman, who is on the hook if the person doesn't show up. Once the case is finished, by law, the client gets their collateral back."
Some are hard to solve. Some are easy. When we called the bond company, they blamed Zelma, saying she gave them the wrong address to return the money. When we gave the company her correct address, they sent her a check.
Howard Finkelstein: "The reason that bondsmen get paid is to save taxpayers money, because if a suspect doesn't show up, the police don't have to go track him down. If the bondsman wants his money back, they will go grab the suspect themselves, so they do provide a needed function."
Zelma is happy to finally have her money back and will use it for her other children.
Zelma Cooper: "The money I got, I can buy school supplies. I'm very happy, very happy that I got my money."
Patrick Fraser: "Now when bail is high and people don't have the cash to meet the 10 percent requirement to get out, there are options. Some bondsmen will accept a promise to pay if you have collateral, like giving them the rights to your house. And if you can't bond out, look at the bright side: you get to enjoy the fine food and warm hospitality of the county's finest accommodations."
Problems got you feeling locked up? Ready for a jail break? Contact us. We can't put up cash, but with our contacts, we sometimes can bail you out."