The Legsville Bail Bondswoman, Raquel Vasquez, tells the hard lessons she’s learned in Part Two of Bail Tales: Getting Paid!
First, I learned quickly that the cops and sheriffs were contentious, but that was a known fact. My clients’ adversities and dramas were much more complicated than expected. You’d think rappers who pulled up in Maybachs would have cash dusted with cocaine particles, but that wasn’t the case. And not all my clients had celebrity status. Some of my clients were just hard-working white boys from the San Fernando Valley who happened to have a heroin addiction.
“Mr. White,” my mentor back at the office, spent hours each day picking my brain to check my thought process. He taught me the sneakiest idiosyncrasies our criminal client element could have and how to deal with them. He warned me about the liars, the drug addicts, the chronic gamblers, the prostitutes and pimps. I felt ready to take it all on. What I had not learned yet was that my clientele, compared to Mr. White’s, was not only different by nature but also a completely different generation of renegades.
During the early days of the millennium, accepting payment plans was a thing that some bail agents did. Some still do, and I guarantee you they never get paid in full. One thing my father taught me in business very early in life was, “You cannot get blood out of a turnip” — an old cliché, but it’s extremely important to remember, especially when it comes to bail bonds. You can have all the contracts and promises known to man, but if they don’t have the means to pay or assets, you’re simply wasting your time. All around me bail agents were accepting payment plans, and so I did, too. If they didn’t pay, and I had mom or grandma on the contract, Small Claims Court would get me the judgment every time.
Accepting payments turned out to be a bad move. My first payment plan client was a heroin addict. I thought he wasn’t so bad and just had a drug problem. I was dead wrong. This SOB was a lying, cheating, stealing snake slithering his way through the San Fernando valley burning bridges. He was tall and skinny with a shaved head and tattoos — we’ll call him “Johnny.” I knew him from somewhere or I knew a friend of his. I honestly forget, but I knew him and trusted him to pay me what he owed me. What I do remember is that he had just enough of a down payment for me to get out of bed in the middle of the night and bust him out of the clinker.
He was in jail on drug possession charges in the Burbank Police Department, a stark white and sterile place that is kept at a cool 65 degrees Fahrenheit. He begged me, literally begged me to get him out and said he would get me the money within two weeks. I didn’t ask how he’d get the money. I was fully aware he was an unemployed junkie. I didn’t care where he was going to get the money. I didn’t care if he was planning on stealing it from a nun, I just heard the words, “I promise I will pay you.”
He missed his very first payment, and I was livid. I was providing a VIP service! I didn’t make his grandmother get out of bed and come fill out an application at my office in the middle of the night. I wasn’t judging him on prior arrests and convictions. I didn’t require him to have a job necessarily either because I had a contract. I had his ID, his social and date of birth. Wrong. Biggest mistake that I never made again was bailing someone out of jail without a super solid address. I learned the hard way that Social Security numbers, dates of birth and phone numbers and license plates will only get you so far. I didn’t know where to find “Johnny.”
The Burbank Jail (Photo by Raquel Vasquez)
I was driving down Buena Vista Boulevard when I noticed a tall skinny punk-looking guy with a shaved head walking on the opposite side of the street. It was “Johnny”! Without hesitation, and without much thought, I made a U-turn and pulled my car up with a screech directly in front of him, almost hitting him with the black vehicle. I left the car running, jumped out, got in his face, and said “Hi, Johnny!” He was sweating and shaking, probably very high. I realized I had just scared the shit out of him.
“I’m sorry, Raquel, I’m sorry! I’ll pay you, Raquel, I’ll pay you! I have this chest of drawers that I’m selling, and this other guy owes me money…” I fell for it, yes, I fell for it. I felt bad for him, I could see he was homeless and I said, “Okay, Johnny, you get one more chance.”
“Johnny” missed his second payment. This is what bail agents refer to as “money on the streets,” meaning money that is out there owed to you. Working on getting paid was just another aspect of the job. Initially I figured there were two places I could find “Johnny,” either at a Twelve-Step meeting or at the “connects.”
While on the hunt for “Johnny,” I decided to take a friend with me to a local Twelve-Step meeting, the kind of Narcotics Anonymous meetings for cool people. Sure enough, I saw him! There he was! I snuck up behind him and said, “Hi, Johnny!” He turned around and again I scared the shit out of him. He couldn’t believe I was standing behind him. I’m sure this came across as if I was following him night and day, having him followed and pinging his cell phone. I really wasn’t. It was just my good luck.
That night at the Twelve-Step meeting, “Johnny” and I walked to a corner and had a quiet conversation. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I didn’t find him at a drug dealer’s house. I didn’t find him high. I found him at a Twelve-Step meeting. I felt bad for the guy. Yes I did, and I realized I was too soft for this department, and it was time for me to consider outsourcing. He told me every lie and excuse and promise you could imagine!
During this process I discovered that I did not enjoy being a tough debt collector, and I was in no position to break any legs. Mr. White had taught me all the right questions to ask. What was vastly different from Mr. White’s clients and mine is that his were career criminals who knew they would need him again and needed him to stay in their graces. My clients were a one-time “had a bad night” type who planned on never needing me again — a major difference. I had some tricks of the trade up my sleeve. I knew what his favorite sports teams were, and I knew where he would probably go to watch games. I knew his favorite music and I knew what shows I could probably find him at. I could find the heroin dealer if I asked around a bit. There were many gangster tactics I could have used, but that felt mean, unpleasant, and I didn’t like it. I knew that night that in the future I would have to leave this part of my career to the bruisers.
Back at the office across the street from the Civic Center, the old men would laugh and laugh at my expense because I got burned by a junkie. They would then laugh at bail agents who “never got what was owed to them.” Mr. White pulled me into his office and sat me down. He had some pointers on how to collect money in a civilized way, and he told me that he always gave a client all the way up to midnight on the deadline date for payment. He would say, “The day isn’t over until midnight, and I gave them the day to pay.”
I struggled with the idea that, ultimately, I would be the person responsible for getting paid and for collecting money owed to me. I considered the many options I had to choose from. I learned that the going rate for money collectors was fifty percent. That means whatever money was collected, the collector was entitled to fifty percent of it. Can you imagine, you get burned in the first place and then lose fifty percent of what’s collected? Keep in mind, the full payment wasn’t always available.
This was the catalyst to many broken laws committed by my collection team in the days, months, and years that lay ahead of me. My next experience would be collecting money both the legal way and the street way. And by the way, “Johnny” never paid me. He fed me weeks of lies and I took a thousand-dollar loss. “Johnny” died of an overdose later that year.