‘Mother’s Day is huge’ say local bondsmen, who then bank on their clients’ willingness to appear back in court at trial time
BBJ photo/NICOLE LANPHEAR
|Tiffany Farlow and Angela Luke operate All City Bail Bonds on Grand Avenue and both love their job. Farlow says there is never a dull moment at All City; they have customers who stop by every day to check in with them, and they even get cards and flowers of appreciation from clients’ families.|
Mother’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year for Angela Luke and Tiffany Farlow. But they are not florists or day-spa owners; they operate All City Bail Bonds, located on Grand Avenue.
“People work really hard to get family members out of jail for the holidays,” Farlow said. “Mother’s day is a huge one.”
Luke has managed the Bellingham location of All City Bail Bonds, which is owned by Troy Hansen out of Seattle, since 1995. She and Farlow, an agent at All City for a year, handle one to 15 cases per day, depending on the caseload in the courts.
“We’re essentially providing an insurance policy that the defendants will make all their court appearances,” Farlow said. “The court sets a particular amount of money that they want to have posted to guarantee that that person will come back and complete court dates.”
When a person is arrested and goes before a judge for a probable cause hearing, the judge decides if there is enough evidence to charge that person with a crime. The judge also decides whether or not to set some type of bail to guarantee that person will return for court appearances.
Farlow said the judge looks at the person’s record, history of appearing in court, the nature of the crime and whether the person is a danger to themselves or members of the community.
That person is then allowed to make collect calls from the jail, and through inmate or lawyer referrals, one of those calls may be to All City Bail Bonds. Farlow said people who have used All City’s services in the past tell inmates to call them.
Luke and Farlow then contact family members to help post bail. A friend or family member must pay the 10-percent premium amount of the bail amount set by the court, and then must sign a promissory note to be responsible for the full bail amount if the person forfeits the bond by not appearing in court.
“We are obligated to provide the full funds to the court if they don’t appear,” Farlow said. “Or we work with a licensed recovery agent to find the person that didn’t go to court, and return that person to the Whatcom County jail.”
The business of bail bonds
All City typically posts bail amounts of $500, which is common for assault charges or driving with a suspended license. For bail amounts less than $1,250, there is a minimum fee of $125.
While most other businesses have some control over their rates and prices, the 10-percent fee is all that bond companies can charge, by law, but the minimum amount is up to each individual company. That 10-percent fee is what All City keeps to pay insurance fees and other bills.
Eric Arps has been manager at A-Ace Bail Bonds in Bellingham for three years. A-Ace has 10 other offices throughout Washington state, and the Bellingham location handles 10 to 30 cases a day.
“Every day is completely different,” Arps said. “Different clients, different problems.”
A-Ace posts bail for $5,000 on average, Arps said. They deal most often with drug, domestic violence or theft charges. Their minimum fee is also $125, with the 10 percent on any bail more than $1,250.
Farlow said all bail bond companies, by law, charge 10 percent. “They cannot charge less; they cannot charge more,” she said. “We all use the same guidelines for what we charge. So it comes down to customer service because we all charge the same and because our requirements to bond somebody are typically the same. What sets us apart is the dignity and respect we give to the inmates and family members.”
Farlow and Luke are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Luke said with the addition of the temporary jail on Division Street, she has noticed a slight increase in business and predicts the new jail, which is going in within the next eight years, will also increase business.
Whatcom County Chief of Corrections Wendy Jones said the main jail holds 247 inmates a day, with 130 held in temporary housing on Division Street. Jones said the location for the new 600- to 1,000-bed jail is still undetermined, but the county is currently looking into locations.
The Bellingham branch of All City is allowed to post a maximum of $500,000, meaning the court has checked the owner’s credentials and verified the insurance company is legitimate.
All City is also able to post bond nationwide, in any state that allows bail bonds.
“So if a family member that lives in Whatcom County has someone who is in jail in Florida, we can help to get that person bonded in another state,” Farlow said. “That is helpful for people so that they don’t have to get on a plane and fly to Florida to take care of the process.”
‘Never a dull moment’
“We work very hard at treating everyone with dignity and respect,” Farlow said. “And they respond to that very well. We get a lot of people that come in and sit and visit with us, update us on how they’re doing and how their families are doing. We have a number of people that call to check in with us several days a week. Some call us everyday of the week.”
Luke said there was one client who was so used to calling that when he was done with serving his time and dealing with the courts, he continued to call everyday.
Attorney Jeffery Lustick has recognized that service, and refers clients to All City.
“This is a very competitive business,” Lustick said. “And what makes the difference is being available 24/7, which All City does, and also being able to give comfort and hope to family members because the majority of the clients that come in here aren’t the clients but the family members. One thing that distinguishes this office from other offices is good customer service.”
Luke said they have a lot of return clients.
“When I first started, the owner of the company said to build a clientele,” Luke said. “And I said, ‘Why would you build a clientele? Once you go to jail, why would you go back to jail?’ And sure enough, there are people we have bailed out numerous times.”
Many clients check in with Farlow and Luke long after their business with them has ended.
“There is never a dull moment,” Farlow said. “It is heartwarming to have people come in and revisit us to tell us they are doing well. Because we deal with so many drug cases, we try to establish a rapport with people so they have a comfortable spot to come in and talk about the process of their recovery. It’s nice to have them come in and say ‘I’ve been sober for a year now,’ or ‘I’ve been clean for a year,’ or they have a job or are buying a house.”
While All City and other bail-bond companies call regularly to remind people to go to court, some people do miss their court dates. The court then informs the bail bond company, which is responsible to pay the full bail amount.
Arps said the largest financial loss he can recall for A-Ace was the loss of $25,000 when a client did not appear for his court dates. However, the man was later apprehended in Georgia and is being sent back to Seattle.
In order to get that money back, they must bring the person back to court within six months, said Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mac Setter. Arps said after a person fails to appear in court, the bail bond company has 60 days to pay or return the person to court. In the case of the $25,000 loss for A-Ace, the company will get its money back because the client was recovered within the specified time.
Farlow and Luke said they work with a licensed recovery agent if someone fails to appear in court.
“In the state of Washington, in order to pick up someone who has a warrant or has jumped bail, you have to be licensed with the state. Even if they walk into our office and say ‘I am ready to turn myself in,’ legally we cannot take them over to the jail in handcuffs and turn them back in,” Farlow said.
Farlow said All City works with an agent who has never lost anyone he has gone after, and All City has never forfeited bail.
“We are one of the few companies that can say that,” Farlow said.
Luke said one of the most important parts of the job is helping families through the process.
“Family members sometimes send gifts in the mail,” Luke said. “They send flowers, just to say thank you, because they wouldn’t have known what to do otherwise.”