Nobody can say Charlotte Riley does not take her work as a bail bondsman seriously: She once tracked down her stepson who failed to show up for his court date.
"It was just some minor violations but that didn't matter," she said. "If I didn't get him back, I would have to pay off the bond. Business is business."
Riley is the owner and operator of A1A Bail Bonding on 10th Avenue in Columbus. The business was formerly called W R Bonding Co., named for her husband, Wilson Riley, who died five years ago. They met when he was tracking a bail skipper in Atlanta, and he requested help from agents at the bonding agency where she was employed.
The slogan of A1A Bail Bonding is "We Will Put Your Feet on the Street."
Riley, 59, has been in the bonding business for 27 years, although her first contact with the industry came much earlier.
When she was 7 years old and living in Atlanta, she lived across from a bonding company and would go there for cookies.
As a high school student, one of her teachers also worked for a bonding company. She taught Riley about the business.
Riley worked in the bonding business part time while employed as an inspector for Snapper Inc., which manufactures lawn mowers.
"I would do my job at Snapper from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. then work with the bonding company sometimes until 1 or 2 in the morning," she said. "I did not get much sleep."
With this job, she still doesn't.
She said once bail is set for someone who has been arrested, someone connected to the inmate -- usually a family member -- will come to arrange bond. Collateral is expected.
For a bond less than $10,000, she is paid 12 percent of that amount. For anything else, it is 15 percent.
If the person does not show up for a court date, Riley will have to bring that person in within 250 days. If the person never shows, her company can be responsible for the entire bail amount.
She has had to pay some forfeitures but said, despite that, bail bonding is a lucrative business.
Riley spoke about her job with the Ledger-Enquirer recently. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What do you like about this job?
It is helping people. Someone who has been arrested and gone to jail might have a job, might have a family. There are people they need to take care of. They often need to find an attorney. I give them time to do all of that.
What about people who would criticize you and say your are just freeing crooks?
I say not guilty until proven guilty. Anyone can be accused of something. Everyone deserves their day in court. I can't judge anyone.
Do you help any of the prisoners in any way other than provide bail?
We are not supposed to give legal advice. We are not supposed to suggest an attorney. We may know who the best lawyers are but we can't say.
About how many bails do you do each year?
I would say maybe 600 a year.
How many forfeitures?
In 2011, we had 143. In 2012, we had 124.
You use bounty hunters but most of the time you bring bail skippers in yourself, don't you?
Yes, I track them down. We will go anywhere to find someone.
Have you ever been injured bringing somebody in?
I have never been physically hurt. Most come peacefully.
Do you believe being a woman helps?
Yes, they are not as intimidated.
Are they surprised to see you?
Some are surprised. I tracked one guy for a year. When he saw me, he said it was like seeing a ghost. He said he couldn't believe I had found him.
Are you armed?
I have a .38-caliber revolver and handcuffs. Both are pink. I also have a Taser. Thankfully, I've never had to use any weapons.
How do our treat the bail skippers?
With respect. They are going back into the jail and I don't want them talking bad about me. Everyone in there is a potential customer.
Who are the worst bail skippers?
The people arrested for shoplifting. They practically never show up for court.
How do track down the bail skippers?
Much of it is done by computer. We get a lot of information before we give bail. We have the Social Security number. We get a phone number. We find out about friends and relatives and how they can be reached. Of course, the co-signer of a bond is also interested in getting the person back in court.
Do you ever close?
We are open 24/7 every day of the year. If needed, we are there.
You find the work interesting?
I get to work with all kinds of people, a lot of different nationalities. If you can't deal with different people, it is hard to do this job.
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