The Notorious Life of
A Front-Page Bail Bondsman
with Daniel Paisner
Gelett Burgess wrote a poem in 1895 that made him famous. It went
I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.
I have the same feeling about soldiers in Iraq, Congressmen, and, now, bail bondsmen.
At age twenty-eight, Ira Judelson found himself unmarried, underemployed, living with his mother and father --- with no hopes, no prospects ... outside of being a local "competitive, top-tier softball player."
The sponsor of his softball team was an attorney, and Ira went to visit him one day as he was talking to one of his clients about a bail bondsman. "This was the first time I had a full handle on how these guys worked. It seemed like a good gig."
The bondsman got a 10 percent fee on the $150,000 bond, plus he had a kind of hedge against the guy's running because he had the mother's house as collateral.
It seemed to Ira like a job made in heaven, especially when he found that his Uncle Phil was in that very business. He went to see Phil, and begged for a chance, and lo!, within a year, Ira had his own office in the Queens --- backed by the assets (and wisdom) of his Uncle, one of the top bail bondsmen in New Jersey.
The stories Judelson comes up with here are sometimes funny, often pointed, and in a couple of cases, downright hairy. He starts out by telling us upfront that he's not in business to "help" people; he's in business to make money. On the average, the bondsman will take 8% of the $50,000, or $150,000, or $500,000 bond as his fee, but he has to split part of that with his insurance company.
Sometimes he does manage to help. For instance, if you get busted for bribing your local legislator, or for running a meth lab in your basement, or for robbing widows and orphans, he can probably get you out on bail (most people seem to be uneasy about being sent up the river for a year or two). He will spring you until you go to trial; he will keep you out until you are found guilty (or given your freedom) by the judge.
If Ira gets you out on bond --- secured by your mother's house, for example --- he is still on the line for the full cash amount. If you skip town, he has to come up with the dough unless bounty hunters find you. Then he has to split the fee with them.
For Judelson bounty hunters are a last resort: "You put a bounty on the head of whoever's at large --- typically a percentage of the bond --- and the bounty only gets paid if he brings the defendant in."
§ § §
One of the best stories here is about Baruch Lebovits, the Brooklyn rabbi who was charged --- perhaps mistakenly --- with sexual abuse:
I never met the rabbi, but dozens of people came to see me on his behalf. Sometimes it looked like every Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn was crammed into my office, all dressed out with their fine hats and heavy black garb. They were offering to put up their homes, their businesses ... whatever it took to free the beloved rabbi. Clearly the man was a powerful force in the community, and he was determined to clear his name.
The tale of getting Lebovits out of Dannemora Prison --- Tupac Shakur and Lucky Luciano's old home --- in time for Passover is a genuine nailbiter, filled with the details of the bureaucracy of the criminal justice system, how to spring someone on a $500,000 bond, what to do when meeting a famous attorney like Alan Dershowitz ("a great guy"), and, finally how to free your man and get him back to Brooklyn before sundown Monday so he can celebrate with the faithful in his own home. The story of the rabbi, Ira tells us, is "the bail bond business in a nutshell. It's a business of risk."
What Ira also reveals is that the business may suck you in, but it doesn't always make you happy. His home --- with wife and three children --- is a fortress. "I check the house every night before I go to bed. Three times. I look out the windows. Three times. I've got weapons stored around the house, just in case --- in every room just about. I've set it up so that whenever I am, there's a way to protect myself, a way to protect my family."
§ § §
Not only does Ira think like a criminal, he knows a bunch of them. He has to. His job is not to take a stand, whether they are guilty or not, nor whether they are involved in a detestable crime or not. He's there to weigh their assets and liabilities --- and their characters --- to see if they are bondable. It's the $$$, stupid.
Ira estimates that, right now, he's got sixty or seventy million dollars of bonds floating around in the New York / New Jersey judicial system. There are other problems: he is dealing with people who have no hesitation about cutting your throat if you get in their way.
One story tells of his dealing with "an associate of an alleged mob captain" who owed him $15,000 for the bond that he wrote. When Ira tried to collect, after the third call the man told him that if he didn't stop bothering him, he would cut his throat "ear to ear." When Ira went to the "captain" and complained about being stiffed, "I stopped to think just who I was dealing with. This guy was notorious."
The stories had him taking baseball bats to people when they stepped out of line. He made his bones the hard way, had a couple of bodies on the street ... all of that.
"Wasn't smart, me pushing up on him like this, but I didn't see any other way to play it. I had to come at this guy from a position of strength --- otherwise, my whole business was screwed." Ira gets his money, but I won't sabotage the drama (nor the vocabulary) of it.
There are another couple of details that make The Fix fascinating, worth your time. The lingo is one. "He made his bones" presumably means that he made his living ... by breaking bones. When you pay a debt, you can "piece it off" --- do it in payments. You don't go to jail, you find yourself "stepping in the joint." A "rabbi" --- not in the religious sense, but as a friend --- is someone you can trust when you get pinned in a corner, someone who will always help you.
And, if you do ever get close to being convicted, and find that you might have to step in, you might want to read Judelson's tips on what to do as they prepare to slam the bars behind you:
- Do your own surrender;
- Prepare your family for what is coming;
- Don't make waves and --- of course ---
- "Don't fuck your bondsman."
And there's one we had never heard of before, called, ready? --- "Do Kick Your Case Around As Long As You Can."
The system doesn't do you any favors, so don't go doing any favors for the system. If you're out on bail, let your case drag its way to trial. DA's come and go. Headlines come and go. Courts get backed up, overloaded --- and if there's one things judges hate, it's a backlog of cases. Find a way to keep your case on the docket, and you'll get a better deal from the prosecuters.--- Richard Saturday