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Proposition 102 draws heated debate

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — Prop 102 is a measure on the November ballot that, If it passes, would allow only first time non-violent offenders eligibility to get out of jail without putting up a bond. Those against it said it’s just a money grab by bondsmen who would dramatically increase their customer base. But the bondsmen said it makes our streets safer by keeping more violent offenders in jail while they wait for trail. Proposition 102 has triggered heated debate by both sides. We want to present the arguments from both so you can make an informed decision at the ballot box. “Basically the ballot reads only first time non-violent offenders are eligible for pretrial release,” Prop 102 proponent and bail bondsmen Dennis Blackwell said.
Full Story and Video Here

“Model” could cost bondsman a bundle

Bill Hethcock; The Gazette.

A Colorado Springs bail bondsman stands to lose $185,000 if he can’t find cross-dressing “supermodel” Storme Aerison in the next three months. Bondsman Dennis Blackwell appeared Monday in court without Aerison, who has been wanted since Feb. 12 for failing to appear at a court hearing in which he was supposed to enter a plea to charges of felony theft, fraud and bail violations. Fourth Judicial District Judge Ed Colt set a June 18 deadline for Blackwell to find Aerison or fork over the $185,000 total bond set in four cases. Aerison has become known nationally for posing as a female cheerleader and a “supermodel.” Aerison was born Charles Daugherty. He also uses the name Shannon Ireland and a half-dozen other identities. In 1990, at the age of 26, he was arrested for criminal impersonation for enrolling at Coronado High School as a 17-year-old and joining the female cheerleading squad. During the past decade, police have investigated allegations that Aerison posed as a model and defrauded photographers, calendar companies and overseas hotels out of money, airline tickets and rooms by promising to advertise their businesses in calendars featuring the self-described “supermodel.” He’d take the money but the calendars would never materialize, police say. Prosecutors allege Aerison swindled $15,000 from a woman for plane tickets to a photo shoot in Tahiti. They also allege Aerison opened an account with Digital Federal Credit Union in 1999, deposited $185,000 in fake checks and then made withdrawals and purchases that ultimately cost the credit union about $30,000. Finally, prosecutors contend Aerison conned a local man by picking him up, winning his trust, getting his Social Security number and opening credit card accounts in his name, accumulating $50,000 in charges.

“Supermodel” Arrested

Bill McKeown; The Gazette

‘Supermodel’ arrested/ Fugitive cross-dresser found in Florida apartment

Runaway cross-dressing “supermodel” Storme Aerison’s spring break came to a halt early Wednesday in a Daytona Beach, Fla., apartment when he was arrested on a fugitive warrant from Colorado. The arrest capped the latest caper by the Colorado Springs native, who was born Charles Daugherty but later transformed himself into “Storme,” a vivacious vamp with honey-colored hair and a penchant for Tahitian vacations. Aerison is wanted by the 4th Judicial District Court in Colorado Springs for failing to appear on felony charges of theft and bail bond violations. Police allege Aerison, who is listed as a male on his driver’s license but reportedly considers himself all girl, is a con man who has scammed tens of thousands of dollars from people. Bail bondsman Dennis Blackwell, who stood to lose $155,000 in bond money after Aerison failed to show for a Feb. 12 court hearing, said he found Aerison’s location through the mother of the model’s longtime companion. The bondsman said the couple had apparently visited the woman in Alaska before heading for Florida. Blackwell said when he and Daytona Beach police knocked on the door of the couple’s rented apartment, Aerison’s friend initially denied Aerison was there but eventually allowed a search. Police found the fugitive hiding under clothing in the closet of a back bedroom. At the time of the arrest, the “supermodel” was wearing a 5 o’clock shadow and a girl’s T-shirt with little hearts on it, Blackwell said. Aerison made national headlines – and landed a spot on the Sally Jessy RaphaelTV show – when he was arrested in 1990, at the age of 26, for enrolling at Coronado High School as a 17-year-old and joining the female cheerleading squad. He was given two years’ probation on a felony impersonation conviction and was ordered to receive psychiatric treatment. In the past year and a half, prosecutors allege Aerison: Stuck Digital Federal Credit Union with $30,000 in losses after depositing $185,000 in fake checks and then making withdrawals and purchases. Swindled $15,000 from a woman for plane tickets to Tahiti after promising that the woman’s teen-age son would be part of the model’s photo crew. Traveled to Tahiti despite a judge’s explicit order that he not until the credit union case was resolved. Conned a local man by picking him up, winning his trust, getting his Social Security number and opening credit card accounts in his name, accumulating $50,000 in charges. Blackwell said if he had not been able to find Aerison, he would have been forced to foreclose on his parents’ home, which they had put up for bond collateral. Aerison remains in the Daytona Beach Jail, awaiting extradition. Wanted Storme Aerison is wanted by the 4th Judicial District Court in Colorado Springs for failing to appear on felony charges of theft and bail bond violations. -CUTLINE- Storme Aerison (Photo ran on METRO1)

A Business on the Edge

Amy Curtis Asay; The Gazette

June Waller was applying for a job at the Colorado Springs Criminal Justice Center. She noticed several bail bondsmen. I could do that, she thought. After Waller did some research and a local bondsman took her under his wing, an insurance company agreed to contract Waller. She has been writing bail bonds for five years. Bail bonds providers merge insurance, banking and the skills of a parole officer to carve out a living in what some would consider an undesirable business shadowland. Yet without their services, the state would face overcrowded jails and the task of monitoring and tracking down all defendants at taxpayers’ expense. It’s a curious profession. It involves severe financial risk; a reputation that is mediocre at best; and dubious, potentially dangerous clients who are in jail, and then can possibly skip town on a whim, leaving the bondsman responsible and empty-handed. “When they come into my office, I’m not here to judge whether they are guilty or not. I leave that to our jury system,” said Dennis Blackwell, owner of Bail Bonds R EZ in Colorado Springs. “In order to do this, you have to have an open mind. I’m sure a criminal defense attorney would tell you the same thing.” Ken Becker of Ken Becker’s Five Percent Down Bail Bonds compares his job’s reputation to cleaning out portable toilets: “If you don’t like the smell, you shouldn’t be doing it.” Becker said a fledgling association of bonds providers is starting, with the goal of setting some industry standards. Yet it’s been difficult to get a professional group together, Becker said. The reason: They don’t trust one another. “We’re the worst,” he said. “We’re the most greedy people in the world.” According to the Colorado Division of Insurance, the agency that regulates the bonds industry, there are about 500 licensed bonds providers in Colorado. For Waller, 62, who runs A and J Waller Bail Bonds, the flexible hours – freedom from 40 years of working 9-to-5 – has made the job worth it. To enter the field, she had to take a two-day bail bonds seminar in preparation for a licensing test on Colorado statutes. She also had to sign a contract with a surety company, an insurance agency specializing in bail bonds. Almost all bonds providers operate as agents for larger insurance companies, most of which are located on the East Coast, Waller said. Also, Waller needed $50,000 to start a build-up fund – a buffer in case one of her clients should jump bail on a large bond amount. But she could not get a small-business loan because of what she said is a negative perception of the industry. Some bonds providers have put up property or houses as collateral for the build-up fund. Waller used her savings. Legislation that became effective this year requires that in addition to the classes on state statutes, bonds providers must take 16 hours of bail-recovery training, which deals with proper arrest techniques. The new rules are designed to prevent bounty hunters and bail bonds providers from infringing on a defendant’s civil rights. Waller said the business can be financially lucrative. Bonds providers make a 15 percent commission off each bond. But that only works if one employs a good bail recovery agent – a bounty hunter, that is. Some bonds providers contract out the bounty-hunter work. Blackwell of Bail Bonds R EZ pays a full-time investigator about $35,000 a year plus expenses to track down clients. Here’s how the bail-bonds system works: After a judge sets a bail amount and a trial date, a jailed person has the choice of either paying the bail or staying in jail. Individuals who don’t use a bail bondsmen usually have to forfeit either cash, title to property or some other assets as bail. These assets are to be returned when the defendant reappears in court, regardless of whether the defendant is later found guilty. The bonds provider, on the other hand, doesn’t have to forfeit any assets when representing a jailed client. Instead, because of their insurance-company backing, they can sign a bond – a contract with the court. This promises that the defendant will appear on the designated court date or the bond will be paid in full by the bonds provider. For this service, bonds providers charge their 15 percent commission, or $150 from a $1,000 bail bond. Most bails are in this range, with some entering five-figures, or even six-figures, for some offences. However, after a bond is 10 days old, the client can no longer receive a refund for appearing in court. This opens the door to abuse, said Becker. An unethical bonds provider can bail a client out, wait 10 days, and return the client to jail. The bonds provider can then pocket the 15 percent service fee. And because the client is now once again sitting in jail, the bondsman doesn’t have to worry about the client missing the court date – the biggest business risk in the industry. Becker would like to see the image of bonds providers improve, but it’s hard when the clients are in such a vulnerable position. “When you’re in jail, you’ll do anything to get out,” Becker said. “You’ll even swear to the Lord.” When defendants miss their court date, the bonds provider, called the guarantor, must track down and bring the defendant back to court to avoid paying the full bond. The forfeiture of a large bail sum, maybe $100,000, can put a bondsman completely out of business. But the cost of retrieving bail-jumpers also cuts into profits. One of Blackwell’s investigators, who wished to remain anonymous, said he tracked one client to a mental hospital in Charlotte, N.C. “They threw the (client) out in his underwear and wouldn’t let him back in.” They spent 36 hours in the car, making their way back to Colorado justice. In cases like this, when a client flees to another state, Blackwell has to decide whether retrieval is worth the trouble. Would it cost more than the 15 percent bond service fee to drag the client back to Colorado? Blackwell said he can sometimes charge the bond co-signer (usually a relative or friend of the defendant) for the retrieval costs, but frequently the co-signer disappears as easily as the client. “It’s a hard business, to be honest with you,” Blackwell said. “There’s at least five-six bondsmen who go out of business every year. I’m probably one of the youngest, agewise, but one of the veterans.” Blackwell is 32. He said he writes 300 to 400 bonds a month. About 10 percent of his clients fail to appear for court dates. Out of that group, Blackwell said nine out of 10 just “spaced it out” or simply didn’t feel like going to court. Usually the problem is resolved with a phone call to the client’s house. Blackwell escorts them back to the courthouse where the client will either be thrown back in jail or the court date rescheduled. That decision is up to the judge. One plus is that bonds providers can choose their clients, Becker said. Jailed individuals have to use those bonds providers who are actually willing to work with them. Bonds providers can impose parole-like conditions as part of the contract, requiring regular phone calls or check-ins. If a client is reluctant to follow through, the bonds provider can throw the client back in jail, Becker said. Becker said he has $3 million wrapped up in bail bonds at any given time. He spends $13,000 a month on phone book ads. On the low end, a bonds provider could make $20,000 a year, Becker said. But some local bondsmen make at least that much in a month. Becker, whose wife and daughter are also bonds providers, said he falls somewhere in between. – Story editor and headline writer David Fondler FOR INFORMATION Individuals who feel cheated by or have a complaint about a bail bonds provider can call the Colorado Division of Insurance, (800) 930-3745. In addition, the division has a Web site that provides consumer-information tips for those who need bail bond information: www.dora.state.co.us/insurance. Those without Internet access can write for a pamphlet at Colorado Division of Insurance, Bail Bonds Brochure, 1560 Broadway, suite 850, Denver, CO 80202. “There’s at least five-six bondsmen who go out of business every year. I’m probably one of the youngest, agewise, but one of the veterans.” Dennis Blackwell @CUTLINE: Mark Reis/The Gazette – Dennis Blackwell works with his sister Janice Titus at Bail Bonds R EZ in Colorado Springs earlier this month. Blackwell employs a full-time investigator to track down clients who fail to appear for their court dates. One of his clients was traced to North Carolina and was returned to Colorado.

Client over the years recognizes Blackwell as bondsman of choice

February 4, 2007 – 12:00AM CARY LEIDER VOGRIN/THE GAZETTE

To our readers: This report accompanies the day’s top story about frequent visitors to the El Paso Criminal Justice Center. Allaine Loggins says when she walks out of the Women’s Correctional Facility in Cañon City, she’s putting crime behind her. No more tussles with her boyfriend. No more theft. No assaults or drugs. She’ll be a better mom and grandmother, a law-abiding citizen who is going to break the cycle of crime in her family. It’s the type of promise judges and jailers hear every day. After learning of her 66 visits to the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center and two stints in state prison during the past 20 years, it’s easy to raise an eyebrow at her claims, no matter how emphatic. “I do not want to see another courthouse, another CJC, another prison,” Loggins said in a prison interview. “I just turned 45 years old. It’s time to make a change, it’s time to let it go.” “You won’t see Loggins back in – not this Loggins back up in CJC. Nope. I’m through. And you can write it down. I’m through.” Loggins has been in CJC seven times in the past two years. Her history in lockups dates to 1986, when she was brought in on an assault charge. Loggins’ list of bookings fills more than five pages and includes charges linked to shoplifting, DUI’s and drugs, harassment, traffic cases and domestic violence. She also was picked up several times for failure to appear in court for her cases. A printout of court cases with her name on them is nearly an inch thick. “All this is me? Lord Jesus!” she said when presented with a stack of papers bearing her name. Was she surprised? “Yes!” she said, before admitting: “Well, not really.” Loggins was most recently at CJC in January 2006 before being sent to Cañon City the next month. She was sentenced on a probation violation in a 2001 check forgery case and an incident in which she reportedly punched a woman at a restaurant where she and one of her daughters went early one morning after celebrating Loggins’ birthday. When police showed up, Loggins identified herself as another of her daughters to avoid being brought in on an outstanding warrant for trespassing warrant. “I didn’t want to go to jail,” she said of the incident. “I had a warrant on my name.” Since 1986, the 1980 Mitchell High School graduate has spent 903 days in the county jail — nearly 2½ years, according to Paula Presley, chief of the detentions bureau for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. The cost to taxpayers: between $31,605 and $52,374, depending on such factors as medical needs. The figures don’t include her state prison stays. Loggins said she can’t remember when she began breaking the law, but shoplifting was among her first crimes. “Stores here, stores there,” she said. “I can’t remember the first time I went to jail, that’s how long it’s been.” She was booked on shoplifting charges three times in 1987 alone. “A lot of times I was just booked into CJC. You know how you book in and bond out? I did a lot of bonding out,” she said. “I paid for Dennis Blackwell’s wedding,” she joked, referring to the bondsman who got her business over the years. Indeed, Blackwell recognized her name immediately. “That just goes to show how long I’ve known her,” he said of her comment about his wedding. “I’ve been married going on 10 years. “I’ve bonded her out numerous times over the years. I kind of know her whole family,” he said. Loggins blames much of her time in jail on domestic disputes with her longtime boyfriend, Moses Cobb, with whom she plans on reuniting when she’s freed. “That’s my other half. I don’t know if you can call that love or not … But I guess it is. I do love him and I know he loves me. It’s weird, it’s crazy.” Cobb’s record includes more than a dozen domestic violence cases, all involving Loggins. He’s been in jail nine times himself, according to CJC records. Blackwell knows Cobb, too. “They’re just not meant to be together, but they can’t stay away from each other,” he said. Cobb, 51, hasn’t been in any trouble since Loggins has been in prison, but he said he loves her enough to give their relationship another go. They’re talking about marriage. “I’m drawn to her — since I first met her,” he said. He said he’s praying for peace when they’re again together. Loggins said she’s not only hoping to be a better grandmother to 10 grandchildren— two others have died — but also a role model to them and her own four grown kids. Three of her five siblings also are now locked up. “We got to break the cycle,” she said. “My grandkids can’t be in this kind of environment.” “Why should they believe me? I’ve got to show ‘em. Once they see me in action, maybe they’ll want to do it.” She is scheduled to be released in April.

Dennis Blackwell on the front of the newspaper

By ANTHONY LANE Bobby Brown: As seen on television. Photo By Sean Cayton The episode starts in a dimly lit bar. “Hollywood,” a bounty hunter, ends a phone call and strides purposefully toward his employer. “Hey, yo, man. This dude just called me,” he says. “He’s got some information about Charlie. I’m gonna meet him first thing in the morning at the office.” They confer before Hollywood heads for the door, preparing for an early-morning meeting that could give leads to the fugitive’s whereabouts. “Blaze,” a local bail bond agent, bids him good night, and the video shifts briefly to what could be an outtake from a MADD commercial. “Be safe, man,” he says. “You only had one, right?” Blaze is played by Rick Harper, owner of Express Bail Out in Colorado Springs, in a sort of low-cost, unpolished alternative to the Dog the Bounty Hunter series seen on the A&E Television Network. Full Story Here

Colorado State University - Pueblo announces Blackwell President’s Leadership Award

PUEBLO – Student leaders at Colorado State University-Pueblo will receive additional recognition and a cash award thanks to the generosity of the Blackwell and Titus families. Homer Blackwell, Dennis Blackwell, and Janice Titus have established an endowed award, the Diane Blackwell President’s Leadership Award, to be presented annually to a student leader who “displays exceptional leadership skills, is very involved with the campus community, and contributes to make CSU-Pueblo a better place.” The award honors the memory of Diane Karen Blackwell, who passed away in May of this year. “My mom was an inspiration, my best friend,” said Janice Titus. “She not only inspired me, but almost each and every person she came into contact with. I would like her memory and legacy to continue to inspire our future leaders of America.” The Diane Blackwell President’s Leadership Award will be presented to a student at the annual student leadership recognition ceremony in April/May. The award will be given to an outstanding student leader from a pool of nominations. Candidates for the award will have excelled as student leaders with a distinguished record of extraordinary service, spirit, advocacy and involvement within the University community. Recipients will have a history of positive and significant accomplishments resulting in major contributions that enhance the quality of life at the University. Other criteria for the award include being a current CSU-Pueblo student enrolled in six or more credit hours, junior class rank or higher, and a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.75 or above. “Working with the Titus and Blackwell families to establish this generous endowment was a moving experience for me,” said DenaSue Potestio, president of the CSU-Pueblo Foundation. “The purpose of the Diane Blackwell President’s Leadership Award is to inspire young people to become active and intelligent leaders, in the name and memory of a very special friend of CSU-Pueblo. Diane is also the grandmother of two of our most outstanding current student leaders: Steve Titus, 2nd term president of the Associated Students Government (ASG) and Britney Titus, ASG senator for Student Empowerment,” said Potestio. If the recipient of the Diane Blackwell President’s Leadership Award is a graduating senior, this graduate will receive his/her diploma at the commencement ceremony in the Spring directly following the recipient of the Threlkeld Prize for Excellence, another prestigious University award. Colorado State University – Pueblo is a regional, comprehensive university emphasizing professional, career-oriented, and applied programs. Displaying excellence in teaching, celebrating diversity, and engaging in service and outreach, CSU-Pueblo is distinguished by access, opportunity, and the overall quality of services provided to its students.

Getting Sprung in The Springs
Getting sprung in the Springs – The local bail bond industry can be fiercely competitive – and disillusioning By Anthony Lane-Colorado Springs- The episode starts in a dimly lit bar. “Hollywood,” a bounty hunter, ends a phone call and strides purposefully toward his employer. “Hey, yo, man. This dude just called me,” he says. “He’s got some information about Charlie. I’m gonna meet him first thing in the morning at the office.” They confer before Hollywood heads for the door, preparing for an early-morning meeting that could give leads to the fugitive’s whereabouts. “Blaze,” a local bail bond agent, bids him good night, and the video shifts briefly to what could be an outtake from a MADD commercial. “Be safe, man,” he says. “You only had one, right?” Blaze is played by Rick Harper, owner of Express Bail Out in Colorado Springs, in a sort of low-cost, unpolished alternative to the Dog the Bounty Hunter series seen on the A&E Television Network. He’s posted two episodes on YouTube and is waiting to see if they get picked up for wide distribution. Harper describes the videos as a sort of window into his world, a world to which he was drawn by the promise of ensuring community safety and providing service to accused criminals. “When I opened this business, I thought I would be able to help people,” Harper says. But now, he contends, a wave of “predatory pricing” is paving the way to a society in which a few unscrupulous bond agents will blindly post bail for dangerous thugs. Harper, 46, says he won’t post bond for suspected sex offenders and will turn away people suspected of murder. “We’re screwing the community by bonding folks who are a threat,” he says. “You can’t just have this revolving door.” The process A revolving door, if one exists, results partly from the principle in this country that people accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty. Judges cannot simply lock up all suspects until they are convicted or acquitted, so instead they set bail for most: low amounts for those accused of minor crimes, amounts exceeding $1 million for major crimes or defendants considered likely to run. In the tradition of American enterprise, bail bond agents are simply businesspeople who, for a fee, take responsibility for that bail. In Colorado, they must be licensed by the state and can charge up to 15 percent of the bail amount; for instance, they’ll make $150 for posting a $1,000 bond. Though most agents pay a small amount for an insurance company’s backing, and though competition often drives the fees below 15 percent, bail bond agents can make a good living if all their clients show up at court. Business gets tricky when customers miss court or flee the state. Bail bond agents face the expense of paying bounty hunters to track their clients down, or the hassle of seizing a house or a car put down as collateral. In cases where the collateral has dried up and the client has vanished, they face the prospect of paying out the full bail amount. The insurance companies only pay out as a last resort, and agents who lean on them could end up with higher rates or losing their backing altogether. Harper has only been in the bail bond industry for four years, but says he’s seen competition among local agents drop the floor from the get-out-of-jail market. While 15 percent used to be the standard fee for small bonds of about $2,000 or less, he says, some local agents are now advertising rates of 9 and 10 percent. Larger bonds that might have gone for 6 to 10 percent now can be had at 5 percent, or possibly less with some sort of installment plan. The competition, in Harper’s view, makes society less safe by letting suspected criminals go free for a relative pittance. “I think my industry sucks,” he says. There is no data available in El Paso County to support Harper’s claim about the ease of posting bond, or its effect on society. Sheriff Terry Maketa notes that people often miss court dates due to simple forgetfulness, especially those who were booked on minor charges and released on their own recognizance. This has happened more frequently in the last couple years, as the 1,600-bed Criminal Justice Center has run out of room to house people accused of most minor crimes, Maketa says. click to enlarge Rick Harper: industry humanitarian. – SEAN CAYTON SEAN CAYTON Rick Harper: industry humanitarian. But, Maketa says, “They don’t get a lot of bail jumpers.” Dennis Blackwell and his uncle Bobby Brown, who run rival bail bond agencies widely considered the county’s largest, dispute Harper’s claim. They say their companies have applied a Wal-Mart-type model, bringing low prices, customer service and professionalism to a business in which some operators fly by night and write bonds from their cars or kitchen tables. Though the industry is rife with jealousy and infighting, they say, companies like theirs help relieve jail crowding while providing an efficient way of tracking suspected criminals. Blackwell says he wrote more than 8,000 bonds last year, most of them in El Paso County for amounts averaging between $1,000 and $2,000. Since some court cases drag on for years, he estimates he now has around 10,000 clients. He has two full-time investigators to keep up with them and to find the roughly 10 percent of his clients who miss court. Blackwell says most are quickly found and returned to jail or released on a new bond. He has two offices and employees for each, and he pays thousands each month for advertising. In 16 years of business, he says, he’s never been closed a single day. “We’re a real business,” Blackwell says. “I want to set the standard.” Industry’s threats The argument that the bail bond industry is an example of free-market splendor is viewed with distaste from many sides of the criminal justice system, though for different reasons. Many defense attorneys backed a legislative proposal this year put forward by the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar that would have essentially allowed courts to take the place of bail bond agents. Under the proposal, courts would have been allowed to collect up to 15 percent of a bail amount for release and then refund some of the money for those who make all their court dates. Maureen Cain, a private attorney and CCDB’s policy director, says the court-administered approach works in the federal court system, and the cash collected benefits the public instead of private bondsmen. “I don’t know of anyone who thinks the bail bond industry enhances the criminal justice system in Colorado,” Cain says. Cain points to cases where bail bond agents have been accused of taking sexual favors in return for posting bonds, or in which they’ve improperly revoked bonds only weeks after writing them, perhaps by claiming the posted collateral turned out to be no good. And she says sometimes, defendants will scrape together all their money to pay a bail bond agent, meaning they have nothing left if they are convicted and ordered to pay restitution to their victims. Cain’s arguments, however, did not carry the proposal very far. It was withdrawn before legislators even heard from Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, who went to Denver with Bobby Brown and other bail agents to fight it. Bail industry backers say court-run systems result in more people missing court, because you don’t get bondsmen hunting down the people who skip. Prosecutors see the industry and bail amounts in a different light. John Newsome, district attorney for the judicial district covering El Paso and Teller counties, says prosecutors by and large argue to increase bail, routinely debating defense attorneys about a fair amount that will protect society and guarantee a defendant makes court. “Everyone is entitled to bond,” he says. With apparent reluctance, he adds: “I think the bondsmen are filling a need.” The operation of the free market, however, seems to be driving down costs, Newsome says. The schedule that judges use to determine bond amounts was doubled last year, but prosecutors still often argue that bonds should be set higher for many defendants, particularly those accused of violent crimes or with few ties to the community. “We do see a lot of people posting bond when they should not be,” he says. Newsome points to Gregory Whitehead, formerly a local insurance agent, as an example. Whitehead was 45 when he was arrested in October on suspicion of offering two 15-year-old girls money and alcohol in exchange for sex, according to Colorado Springs police. He is also accused of taking explicit pictures of the girls. click to enlarge Dennis Blackwell: self-styled king. – SEAN CAYTON SEAN CAYTON Dennis Blackwell: self-styled king. Though Whitehead had previously been sentenced to probation in a 1993 case in which he admitted giving young girls money and alcohol in exchange for climbing into his car, he was released from jail on a $150,000 bond. He has been a fugitive since missing a Jan. 4 preliminary hearing. A wanted poster with Whitehead’s picture hangs in Blackwell’s office at the corner of Las Vegas Street and Nevada Avenue. Blackwell split the bond with another local agent. Blackwell’s investigators have been looking for Whitehead since he left. It now appears Whitehead is out of the country, Blackwell says, and he thinks he knows where. The $150,000 soon due to the court will come from a $100,000 trust fund and another $50,000 tied up in escrow. He will not say how much he charged for the bond, and he becomes defensive at the suggestion that he should not have posted it. “You never know what’s going through a person’s mind,” he says, adding an argument for the presumption of innocence that might make the Founding Fathers proud. “We are bondsmen. We’re not a court. We’re not a judge. We’re not a jury.” Though bail agents have no authority to bring fugitives back once they go overseas, Blackwell says he’s done his part by finding Whitehead and sharing information with the court. “Greg Whitehead will be back in jail,” he says. Costly self-promotion Opening a phone book gives a sense of the Darwinian struggle to survive in the bail bond industry. With a perceived advantage to being the first name listed, companies go heavy on the As: “A All American Bail Bonds,” “A Alpha Bail Bonds” and “ABC Bonding Agency” are the first three listings in the 2008 telephone directory. The temptation to offer the lowest rate, and the attached risk of losing big sums of money, quickly puts some enterprises under: The first three listings from a 2005 directory either have disconnected phones or no one answering. In the phone book, agencies use color, position and size to distinguish themselves. Dennis Blackwell, the self-proclaimed “king of bail bonds,” pays thousands each month to have the first, full-page color ad in the Qwest directory’s bail bond section. His 2008 ad offers the lowest rates, “bar none.” “I advertise more than anyone else,” Blackwell says casually during an interview in his newly remodeled office. “Obviously, it works.” Bobby Brown, 57, is the only other local agent likely to contest his 42-year-old nephew’s royalty claim. Their agencies used to run competing ads in the phone directory. Brown now claims he’s evolved beyond that struggle, relying instead on a variety of “subliminal” tactics. His name, for one thing, stands on its own, thanks to the R&B singer and tabloid regular once married to Whitney Houston. Brown’s painted his office on South Nevada Avenue bright yellow to attract attention, and an exclusive deal allows him to advertise in the bathrooms of various bars. His tanned face breaks into a mischievous grin as he notes that women look at him behind closed stall doors. And then there is Brown’s relationship with Dog the Bounty Hunter, whose picture is plastered in the lobby of his office. The prospect of having the grizzled national TV star possibly come looking for them is apparently a selling point for some clients. Many competitors, Brown says, are jealous of his success and of his appearances on Dog’s show. Harper has tried to start a bail bond agent trade group in town, and Brown says he’d be happy to join if there were a way to guarantee that no one would be undercutting him. But without a way to enforce a minimum rate, Brown says, there could be cheating. And he likes being able to lower his rate when he wants to bring customers his way. “I’d rather have half of something than all of nothing,” he says. “I’m in this business to make money.” Different settings For all their mutual success in the bail bond industry, Brown and Blackwell’s contrasting approaches to business are nowhere more evident than in their offices. click to enlarge 35ab_cover-27160.jpeg Blackwell, for instance, works out of a renovated two-story house. The lobby is fitted with comfy chairs, new-looking furniture and a modernist painting featuring nine separate squares arranged in a grid pattern. “I want you to feel like you’re at home,” he says, explaining that he wants mothers and fathers traumatized by a son’s arrest to find comfortable surroundings. Behind the lobby, a front office holds one of Blackwell’s bowling trophies, and his private office upstairs is hung with pictures of his children, African masks and posters of leopards and giraffes. “I just love wildlife,” he says, speaking slowly with a voice that could almost be called contemplative. Wearing a sweatshirt over a softball team jersey, Blackwell does not look the part of a stereotypical bail bond agent. His blond hair is shaved on the sides but rises on top to a sort of rounded peak. He says his business strategy is mostly about being visible, and he prides himself on offering low rates without the kinds of installment plans that some agents offer. Brown’s office is only a few blocks away, but it is a different world inside the bright yellow walls. The lobby is a small rectangle. A bail agent sits behind bullet-proof glass at one end, and one long wall is covered mostly with portraits. One shows Brown with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Ray Crespin, a bail bondsman and mentor. “Dog” smiles from several others. A display case holds T-shirts and even women’s panties printed with phrases like “Property of Bobby Brown” and “Your handcuffs or mine?” Brown’s personal office has no windows, and no outside light enters except obliquely though a panel of frosted glass bricks. Migraines, he says, make him more comfortable in the dark. He smiles at the notion that he’s competing with his nephew or anyone else. “I do not worry about what any other bondsman in the state is doing,” he says. “I worry about Bobby Brown and Bobby Brown only.” Surviving amid chaos There are close to 30 bail bond agents listed in the Colorado Springs phone book, but only a handful actually keep offices. Harper, who got his start in the bail industry four years ago working for Bobby Brown, can count himself one of those. He rents a few rooms on the second floor of a building just up the street from the county jail. The office, reached by climbing a staircase through a Jamaican restaurant, is neat and comfortable. Though it shares a parking lot with a liquor store, Harper is quick to say the location is about convenience rather than a way to catch the eyes of possible clients running pre-arrest errands. He tries to be careful about his clients, and he’s proud of the results. His “skip” board, used to track clients who’ve missed court or are running, usually stays empty. He likes it that way, and expresses reluctance to revoke bonds even for clients who break rules. For instance, today he’s worried that a woman who’s seven months pregnant will miss her court date. She’s already left the state, a violation of the rules for which her bond could easily be revoked, but Harper says he hopes to talk her into doing the right thing. “I’m a sucker, I guess,” he explains. “I try to be a humanitarian.” Harper served 20 years in the Army before retiring as a first sergeant. He got back from a tour in Iraq four years ago and started a second career in the bail bond industry, figuring it was a good way to help the community while staying busy and earning some extra money. He talks at length about people he’s helped as a bondsman: A couple called him on a snowy night desperate to get their daughter out of jail. He drove across town to post her bond and later received a warm thank you note for his efforts. But today, he also wonders if he might have chosen the wrong business. A couple years ago he posted a $30,000 bond for a noted “gang banger” with the aim of helping him turn his life around. The gang member then turned on Harper; he ran for 18 months before he was finally caught. The chase highlighted difficulties working alongside law enforcement officers who view bounty hunting with suspicion, and also risks of the business that are both financial and physical. Harper is a towering combat veteran with a military-style haircut, but he says going up against a gun-toting thug did not have the same moral dimension as fighting in the Army. “I’d rather die knowing I’m defending my country than die at the hands of a gang banger,” Harper says. His disillusionment is clear as he talks about his failed effort to organize local agents into the aforementioned trade group, in which members would agree not to undercut each other and not to play games with clients for instance, revoking their bond at the drop of a hat while pocketing their fee. He’s in a profession where chaos is the norm, and where principles and order could get in the way of profits. His ambivalence about the nature of the job comes out in his YouTube clip, as he and Hollywood hop in an SUV and start searching for Charlie. “I hate to have to snatch this dude off the streets like this, man, you know, knowing his situation trying to get his girl cleaned up,” Harper says in his gravelly voice, his sentences merging together. “She’s into drugs and everything.” Hollywood counters it’s Charlie’s fault for missing court. “It’s part of the job, man. He’s gotta go back.” The original article from the Colorado Springs Independent can be found here: http://www.csindy.com/coloradosprings/getting-sprung-in-the-springs/Content?oid=1143070 lane@csindy.com