Thursday, September 27, 2007

Xue's Gone - Just Ask Lone Wolf

If anyone knows about hunting fugitives in Los Angeles, it is the bail bondsmen and bounty hunters in the street front offices stacked along Vignes St.

This is prime real estate for the men who make their living in this line of work - right outside the inner-city Twin Towers Correctional Facility.

The bondsmen stump up for the bail on an alleged felon, and take responsibility for them coming back to court. If they run, the bounty hunters go after them with 134-year-old legal rights to recoup their costs and then some.

They can't go after Nai Yin Xue - a fugitive from the New Zealand police and United States authorities - but did offer their opinion yesterday on the chances of him being caught: It's possible, but "good luck".

The Herald visited yesterday, disturbing men sleeping at their desks with baseball bats beside them or slurping extra-big Cokes in front of computer games. Garish signage, neon lights and an array of names starting with "A" did little to distinguish one from another.

At The Bail Hotline, Gustavo Contreres - a part-Mexican, part-Navajo Indian who goes by the family name "Lone Wolf" - offers the same advice to the authorities that his mentor offered him on entering the business 20 years ago.

"The best hunter is the one that has not lost his hunt already," he said.

Mr Contreres said the best chance for authorities lay with their access to public databases and "big brother" technology: while bounty hunters have some rights to certain information, they cannot get it all.

He said because Xue had no roots in the US, the trail would go cold, if it hadn't already.

But he said the American attitude in itself could be enough to catch Xue - be it from a public tipoff or simply a lawman's ego at having a fugitive slip his grasp.

"We are a cowboy country that believes in justice: people won't like him on the run," Mr Contreres said.

Bondsmen and bounty hunters fitted in with the American belief in justice, he said.

It gave the innocent the chance to fight their case on the outside, and took the rights from those who skipped bail by letting the common man track him down.

He proudly produced a tatty, laminated copy of the 1873 Taylor vs Taintor Supreme Court ruling that enshrines those rights with the words "arrest and surrender of principal by bondsman".

Bounty hunters have been banned in some states, and Mr. Contreres blamed the likes of Duane "Dog" Chapman, the star of reality television show Dog the Bounty Hunter, who is known to overstep his legal rights. "He has bought shame on the profession."

At Bert Potter's Bonds, Juan Ibarra also used the word "roots" as the best way to track a man - friends, family and associates. He said the resourceful and unattached Xue could be "anywhere on this planet".

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