Wednesday, February 13, 2008

For Shore Bail Bond Agent, Every Day is a Challenge

FREEHOLD — As a bail bond agent for the past six years, Main Street Bail Bonds owner Nick Stroboulis has seen it all.

There was the guy who hid in a wall to escape Stroboulis, for example.

Stroboulis and his bondsman, Patrick Lawlor, were searching for a defendant who had jumped bail. He was a big guy, about 6 feet 2 inches tall and 240 pounds, Lawlor remembered.

"We about walked out of the building," Lawlor said recently at the firm's West Main Street office, remembering the case.

"We'd searched the building three times," Stroboulis added.

"Something made him (Stroboulis) think to move the laundry," Lawlor continued.

And lo and behold, there was a hole in the wall neither of the men suspected was there. And inside the hole was the man they were looking for.

"He (Stroboulis) is tenacious," Lawlor laughed.

An airline investigator for many years, Stroboulis — a well-dressed man with a "Scarface" lamp and poster in his office — says he meant to work part-time as a bail bondsman, but "fell into" a full-time business putting up bonds for criminal defendants eager to be sprung from jail while awaiting trial. He hired Ana "The Mac" Rivera, an energetic, tough-talking woman who can juggle four phone calls at a time, as his manager. He also enlisted Lawlor, a long-time friend and insurance agent, to help him run his business.

Stroboulis employs part-time bail bond agents and bounty hunters as needed, he said.

Licensed through the state Deparment of Banking and Insurance, Stroboulis posts bonds for 400 to 500 people annually, he estimates. Of those defendants, 98 percent make all their court appearances.

That rate is key for Stroboulis, who makes his money by ensuring clients show up for court.

Clients pay him a fee worth 10 percent of their bail amount. In return, Stroboulis puts up a bond guaranteeing the full amount of their bail.

If clients make all their court appearances and the case is resolved, Stroboulis' bond is discharged, he said.

Stroboulis requires clients to check in every week until their cases end, and he or one of his employees will call clients if they fail to do so.

"The first time I'm nice," Lawlor said. But keep forgetting, and Lawlor's tough side will come out.

Most clients aren't avoiding the bond agents; generally, they are just busy and forget to call, Lawlor said.

But there are those few defendants who try to skip out on their criminal cases — and on Stroboulis.

When tracking down recalcitrant clients, Stroboulis often starts with the bail co-signers, Stroboulis said. He also will question neighbors, friends, family — anyone who might know the defendant's whereabouts. At times, Stroboulis' search leads him out of state to places such as Florida.

Clients may not be easily found — one man has eluded Stroboulis for more than a month now — but Lawlor boasts of Stroboulis' abilities to pin them down.

"We're like the (New York) Giants," Lawlor laughed. "Don't count us out."

The bounty hunting part of the business may get the most attention, but Stroboulis and his employees say that is it just one facet of the job.

"We're counselors, we're doctors, we're anything you want," Stroboulis said.

Some clients ask them for legal advice, but Lawlor says he always refers them to their lawyers for answers.

The job can cause headaches on a daily basis, and it can cause heartache as well, Stroboulis said.

Listening to wives or girlfriends who want to bail out men arrested for beating them can be particularly difficult. And there are those generally good people who just did something wrong.

"There's people that just rip your heart out," Stroboulis said.

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