COURTS | Bail: A High-Stakes Business of Risk and Reward

Article excerpt

HOW BAIL WORKS

Rhode Island law permits bail for nearly all defendants. The exceptions are those charged with crimes that carry life sentences, or for probation violators.

Those charged with low-level crimes may be released on personal recognizance in which the defendant's promise to show-up for court dates is sufficient. No cash or property is pledged.

Defendants with serious charges, or a criminal record, may be subject to surety bail, which requires the defendant to either pay 10 percent of the bail amount or pledge property that covers the full bail amount. If the defendant makes court dates, the bail down payment is returned.

A bail bondsman comes in for defendants without the resources to go it on their own. For a non-refundable fee of 5 percent of the bail, or less, the bondsman will pledge property to cover the full amount of the bail.

PROVIDENCE - At first, Israel Vasquez only made cocaine disappear, the police allege.

He was the delivery man. Sent out to meet Providence customers, Vasquez allegedly stashed their drugs in a hidden compartment behind a seat in his silver Mitsubishi.

He worked for "Tony," aka Jose Hance, who took customer calls from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, court documents assert. In March 2010, Providence detectives arrested Vasquez and Hance on drug charges. A judge set bail at $30,000 for Vasquez, who had to either pay 10 percent or post the full amount using property in order to get out of prison while awaiting trial.

The alternative: A bail bondsman.

The incentive: Freedom at a lower cost.

Enter Rudy Procaccianti, who dwells most mornings between the floor-to-ceiling windows that cordon the daily drove of defendants at the Garrahy Judicial Complex, Rhode Island's busiest courthouse. He often paces, pauses, presses a handshake with a familiar air that comes with 28 years in the bail-bonds business. He takes calls on his smartphone from people with one foot in prison's door - unless they can get bail, fast.

He probes with questions to decide whether to wager properties worth hundreds of thousands of dollars as collateral to grant someone temporary freedom.

He wagered on Vasquez. But while out on bail, Vasquez was arrested in January 2011 for allegedly having seven bags of cocaine on him in a Wendy's parking lot in Providence. The police said he told them he was just a runner for someone else.

Bail rose to $50,000. Another associate of Procaccianti's bail- bonding business posted it. Court hearings and motions by Vasquez's lawyer followed. A trial or plea agreement lay down the road.

Then, in January 2012, the man said to have the novel hiding place for cocaine, the man who was just a runner, went on the run.

Vasquez disappeared.

And now the bail bondsman had to deliver the delivery man back to Rhode Island - or face a big expense.

Most mornings, on the long fourth floor of Garrahy on Dorrance Street, lined with district courtrooms, several bail bondsmen duck past pay phones, relics they once used in every courthouse. Their smartphones are tools of the trade now. But crime stands the test of time and so have bondsmen, a uniquely American subset not without controversy in which court-registered civilians make a business out of getting people out of jail - for a fraction of what it would cost a defendant to do it himself.

Once out, a defendant must meet court obligations or face consequences, including - if they flee - becoming a focus of bondsman-hired private investigators or bounty hunters. Though out of prison, a defendant is essentially under a bondsman's control, by law. And one incentive for bondsmen is to avoid Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin's office seeking forfeiture, which can lead to a bondsman having to pay the state up to the amount of the full bail for a defendant who cannot be found.

A client may owe freedom to a motley mix of a bondsman's properties pledged as bail collateral. …