You won't find any tattoos on the man who works as both agent and bounty hunter for Egley's Bail Bonds Inc in Sunnyside, but that doesn't mean he isn't tough on clients who skip out on bonds he has posted to keep them out of jail.
"I'm either loved or hated. They love me when I take 'em out of jail, and they hate me when I put 'em back in," said the man who prefers to be nameless.
Anonymity is an important advantage in the bail bond business when clients have to be chased down for the money. So, for the purposes of this article, let's call him Mr. X and say that this clean-cut, Sunnyside High School graduate would look right at home in your neighborhood...wherever you live.
"Blending in is what I do," said Mr. X, who won't see 30 again, but, from looks, could be just entering his 20s.
"To be good in this business you have to know your area, the neighborhoods, and you have to be able to fit in. I can knock on their doors and they trust me," said Mr. X. "And I can find anybody because I've lived in this county all my life."
Mr. X doesn't spend all his time chasing clients who do not show up for court. He said that 80 percent of the people who ask him to post bail so they can remain out of jail until their court date do keep their court appointments.
"Of the other 20 percent, 10 percent miss the court date by 'accident'," he said, grinning wryly. The 'accidents', he explained, are excuses that can include "over-sleeping", "forgetting" or almost anything that is someone else's fault, maybe even the fault of Mr. X, although he has never been sure just why his clients hold him accountable for their no-show before the judge.
"The remaining 10 percent who don't make it to court simply don't want to go to court," said Mr. X. "Those are the ones who give me headaches because I don't want to go looking for them."
However, in those cases, Mr. X has to put on his bounty hunter's cap and track them down or Egley's Bail Bond Inc stands to lose the bond it posted. And with some bonds going as high as $10,000 (maybe even $250,000) just letting the client run is not an option.
Yes, he said, Egley's did take some hits in 2009, but it could have been worse. "Just like in any business there's losses, but you can't eat very much or you'll go out of business," Mr. X said.
To prevent losses that are over and above what this kind of business has to expect, Mr. X said he is extremely careful to weed out risky clients.
"I ask a lot of questions, and find out a lot of information they don't even know they are giving me," he said. "I can read people. I know, usually, if they are telling me the truth or lying to me. I can determine if someone is a high risk, if he doesn't have any ties to the community. If people are tied down here, have stability, they aren't going to go anywhere. Those are good risks."
Mr. X said he has never felt keeping someone in jail was a solution to crime, but he admits he doesn't have an easy answer how crime in the Yakima Valley can be decreased. He has seen how methamphetamine has messed up some of his clients. "Unfortunately, meth means more business for me. Meth doesn't care if you're poor or rich, pretty or ugly. It doesn't discriminate; it treats you the same. Meth makes people violent, makes them go stealing, makes them angry. It's just crazy, bad stuff."
Because of meth or just the nature of some people, Mr. X is never sure what he will find when he has to go looking for clients who chose not to face a judge on their scheduled court date,.
"You'd be surprised at some of the places I find them," he said.
"We don't need a warrant to go inside a house and search it, and this one day we went to a house and the ex-wife (of the client) told us he was inside and she was going to leave. She left, and we searched. We couldn't find him. We looked everywhere, and were about to leave when we decided to look in the basement bedroom one more time. We found him hiding under a water bed mattress. He had crawled right in under that heavy mattress and was lying there with the weight of all that water on top of him.'
Mr. X laughed at the memory, then sobered at the thought of another chase.
"I thought that was going to be an easy one. We went to his work place and asked if they thought we'd have a problem with him. They said 'no, he's a nice guy'. Well, he was just the opposite of that. I got an ass beating for that. I hit back, but I took a beating. Then he took off running. I called some of my guys I use for emergencies, and we cornered him. We got him. And, no, we didn't hit him after we had him.
"You can't take this stuff personally. Some people just don't want to go to jail. They'll do anything to stay out of it."
Sometimes, as he did on these two searches, Mr. X uses back-up, people like himself who understand they are not Rambo. He also carries a tazer, and has used the stun gun four times in the four years he has had it.
"I believe in talking instead," he said. "I once talked a man back from Mexico after he jumped bail. I bought him a plane ticket, told him I'd take care of his warrant, find him an attorney. I lied to him. When I had him, he asked 'Why did you lie to me?' I said 'You promised to go to court. Did you go to court? Who lied first? Now we're even.'
"I think you've got to respect everybody, and I do until they cross my line. Then I don't respect them and I'll put them in jail," Mr. X said.
Mr. X looks at the bail bond business as a money-saver for the courts and overcrowded jails when he puts up his bond for the accused when they are arrested and guarantees they will appear in court as scheduled. He considers it his duty to see that happens.
"I've been doing this for the past 17 years. Really, it's all I know how to do," Mr. X concluded.