Inside his Cleveland Avenue NW office, bail bondsman Anthony Sylvester bounced between a pair of cellphones, as he alternately answered calls and placed others on hold.
“Bail bonds,” he answered.
It was an inmate at the Stark County Jail. The inmate said he had spoken to his grandma, and she said she was willing to pay to get him out of jail. He asked Sylvester to get hold of her.
Sylvester rolled his eyes.
He had heard stories like that hundreds of times.
He called her anyway.
“Ida? This is Tony. ... I’m calling about your grandson,” he said. She told Sylvester there was no way she could afford it and she wasn’t about to put up her house to get him out of jail.
“I don’t blame ya; I just promised him I would call,” Sylvester replied.
SLY BAIL BONDS
Sylvester’s Sly Bail Bonds was founded in 2008. Sylvester has been in the business for 11 years in all. He regularly fields collect calls from Northeast Ohio jails. Some he takes. Others, from people he has come to learn aren’t good for the money, he ignores.
His livelihood depends on the Eighth Amendment. Not the part that outlaws cruel and unusual punishment — the founders’ reaction to British practices of branding, whipping and long prison terms in colonial America. Sylvester’s business relies on the portion that prohibits judges from placing an “excessive bail,” on those who are innocent until proven guilty.
“If they buy, I’ll fly,” explained the 6-1, 240-pound, bearded Sylvester.
That’s 24/7 and 365 days a year.
“The holidays get really busy,” he said.
A former wrestler at Perry High School and Ohio State University, who was 11-3 as a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, the 35-year-old Sylvester tries to look the part of goon. He wears jeans, a jean jacket and black boots. He recently clipped his ponytail, mostly because his wife was expecting their second daughter.
“No matter what it looks like, or what you see on TV though, when you get right down to it, this is an insurance agency,” he said.
Here’s how it works:
A defendant gets charged and goes to jail. Depending on severity of the crime, a bond is set for his release by a schedule or a court official. Those who can’t afford to pay full bond can contact a bondsman, such as Sylvester. The defendant, or often a family member, pays the bondsman 10 percent of the bond (a fee for services that is not returned). The bondsman, in turn, who is backed by an insurer, guarantees the balance if the defendant fails to show for court appearances.
Page 2 of 2 - “The entire time they are out there, they are in my custody,” Sylvester said.
PROS AND CONS
Proponents of the bail system and bail agents say it frees up crowded jail space at no expense to taxpayers. If a bondsman, such as Sylvester, gets stuck with a fugitive, he goes to find the fugitive because he doesn’t want to forfeit the bond. Sylvester said he has traveled as far as Los Angeles and has been hit by bottles, sticks and even vehicles, to bring someone back to court.
Opponents rail for the elimination of financial bail and bail bonding agencies altogether. They cite data like those found in reports published by nonprofit Justice Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.
In a “Bail Fail” report released in September, The Policy Institute pointed out that the bail system infringes on rights of Americans and that ability to pay is not an indicator of risk in release. The report also cited U.S. Bureau of Justice data, which show average bail amounts increased by $30,000 from 1992 to 2006 — while the use of commercial bonds increased by 32 percent in the same span.
The report recommended expanded community education programs, standardized and validated defendant risk assessments, expanding pre-trial service agencies and more use of court notification systems and technology.
Sylvester said he has yet to lose anyone, meaning all his bailed-out defendants have returned.
“When you’ve got mom putting up her house (as collateral) to get junior out of jail,” Sylvester said, “that means something to most people. That house may have been in the family for three generations ... it’s an heirloom. They’re not going to risk mom losing her house.”
Reach Tim at 330-580-8333 or
On Twitter: @tbotosREP