Business of bail
When people first walk into the Alder Creek Bail Bonds office, located in a caboose on Donner Pass Road, some are undoubtedly surprised to see the smiling face of LeeAnn Curtis looking back at them.
In an industry dominated by men, Curtis has found that she can use her femininity to her advantage in many situations, and she has built a successful business writing bail for defendants in the Truckee, North Tahoe and Downieville region.
But her business is not all that similar to what people think of when they think bail bonds, Curtis said, referring to the glamorized bounty hunters that are frequently the subject of “reality” television shows these days.
Curtis moved to Truckee and opened her bail agency in 1994. She was 26 years old, had a 2-year-old child at the time and was pregnant with twins. But her experience working for another bail agency in Southern California made her confident she could succeed in Truckee ” a town, at the time, without a licensed bail agent.
“When I moved here Truckee was really small,” Curtis said. “It was really slow for the first couple of years. I didn’t write very much [bail] because we were kind of sleepy back then.”
During her first years in town Curtis struggled to find enough clients to keep her business going, and she turned to writing bail for defendants as far away as Ventura and the Bay Area.
She even wrote a bail bond on the day she delivered her twins because she needed the money.
But as the population of the Truckee-Tahoe area has grown, the need for bail services in the region has expanded at an equal rate. And Curtis’ move into the caboose eight years ago also boosted her profile in town.
These days, Curtis said, “I can’t go anywhere and do anything without running into people that, at some point or another, I’ve been able to help.”
Typically a bail agent ” especially an agent with good judgment about which defendants to work with ” has the unique status of being on good terms with all sides in the justice system.
Since Curtis works with the same people who police officers and jail personnel are dealing with, she is able to relate to the stresses of their jobs, while at the same time, she is there for defendants who want or need to get out of jail while their case is being tried.
“Bail has a role: To help keep the economy of incarceration in balance,” Curtis said. “When people go to jail, it costs the taxpayers money to keep them in there … And when we provide bail services, we’re actually saving the taxpayers money by doing it. We’re holding the defendant monetarily responsible for their own condition, and you’re not asking the taxpayers to assume that financial role.”
Instead of keeping a defendant locked up, a bail insurance company underwrites a bond that is designed to ensure the defendant makes all of his or her court appearances until their case is settled. And Curtis, as a licensed bail agent, acts just like an insurance agent and sells bail insurance to defendants who can’t afford the full bail on their own.
Curtis makes her living off the 10 percent premiums ” an amount that is set by California state law ” defendants must pay for bail insurance, although she is quick to point out that she does not keep all that money.
“People always say ‘Oh, you write bail. That must be very lucrative,'” Curtis said, “but in reality it’s not.”
The insurance company that she writes bail for takes a share, and portions of her earnings go to buying advertising, keeping up her office and other expenses typical of a small business.
As is customary in the bail industry, Curtis not only collects the premium for a bail bond, but requires that someone other than the defendant co-sign for the full amount of the bail in order to ensure that someone else has a vested interest in making sure the defendant shows up for court.
“Let’s say you get arrested in Truckee for possession of methamphetamine. Your bail is going to be $10,000. In order to get out on bail you’re going to need to pay $1,000 for the bail bond premium, and then you’re going to need someone to co-sign who can guarantee that $10,000 bail on your behalf,” she said.
Although most defendants go to court and follow through on their obligations while they are out on bail, it’s the ones who don’t that make for the interesting stories in Curtis’ job.
“Pretty much all the people I bail out are working people who have a temporary lesson to learn, and they’re going to go to court and they’re going to take care of it,” Curtis said. “Every once in a while we get somebody who just has to be reminded that they have to comply or there’s a result.”
Those results can vary from a reminder by Curtis that she is holding collateral of theirs to a full-scale recovery effort in which a recovery agent is sent out to find and arrest the missing defendant.
It is during the investigation and recovery phase of her job that being a woman and having a naturally easygoing personality pays off, Curtis said, as she can often get information out of people who might be intimidated by others.
Bail agents have a variety of database tools and investigative methods they use in tracking down runaway defendants, and Curtis has done things like push an empty baby stroller by a house in the process of looking for a defendant.
“Normal people have a route they follow every day. And even when they move they still have a pattern of places that they visit every day. So part of finding a person is figuring out where one of the stops is in their routine and just placing yourself there. And if you do it the right way, sooner or later they’re going to walk right by. That’s how we catch people,” she said.
“I don’t have a lot of war stories because if I think someone has some dangerous tendencies I try not to deal with them ” that’s all just a potential for problems.”
That said, Curtis stated confidently, “Anyone who is on bond with my company … If they fail to appear in court, I will find them and put them back in custody.”
These days people looking for Curtis are more likely to track her down skiing or snowboarding rather than chasing down a fugitive in a different part of the country, and she stressed that she’s always reachable to those in need.
“If I’m on the lift at Sugar Bowl, and you need bail, you can reach me and I’m going to come help you,” she said. “I’ve written a lot of bail from the lifts over the years.”
Alder Creek Bail Bonds is located in the caboose in front of Zano’s Restaurant at 11401 Donner Pass Road in Truckee. LeeAnn Curtis can be reached at 582-1377.
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