Today's bounty hunters

For today's bounty hunters, muscles are optional and technology is in.
Dave Jenny and Tom Dunkel
Monday, February 7, 2011; 12:00 PM

"We're gonna look for you harder than the cops."

So says Dave Jenny, a bounty hunter who adds: "When there's money involved, you're gonna get found."

Jenny and the rest of the crew at Freedom Bail Bonding in Fairfax, Va., were the subject of a Washington Post Magazine cover story by writer Tom Dunkel, who explored the bounty hunters' adaptation to the Internet age and the changing regulations they face.

Jenny and Dunkel took questions and comments from readers about the story and their work. The transcript is below.


Tom Dunkel: Tom Dunkel here. I wrote "The Hunt Is On". Thanks for stopping by. Please be gentle with your questioning. Remember: Dave Jenny can find out anything about you...from your hat size to your bank account number.


Dave Jenny: Good Afternoon! Hope everyone enjoyed the Super Bowl and the article about Freedom Bail Bonding in yesterday's Washington Post Sunday Magazine! I am here with Dave Gambale, owner of Freedom Bail Bonding, to answer any questions that you may have. We enjoyed having Tom with us on the hunt. We are very happy that he was able to write this story and show that while there have been many irresponsible bounty hunters in the news, there are also licensed bail enforcement agents that operate under strict regulations, and within their authority (some authorities different than than the police).


cags777: I have as much respect for bounty hunters as I do people who repossess people's cars and hurl insults out the window. I get really tired of these people not finding any real law enforcement work and then using God to act like a bunch of cowboys and trample the Constitution. Perhaps if these yahoos went into law enforcement or stayed in the military, I would have a hell of a lot more respect for them because they would truly be serving their countries. In these instances, however, they are only out to serve themselves. Shame.

Tom Dunkel: Aren't you being unmindful of the fact that, regardless of the original charge, "skips" have in essence stolen money from their bail bondsman? He's left holding the bag.


azhotdesertdude: So much for being on the run and socializing on FaceBook. Bail-jumpers had better stay underground or "Dawgs" are going to find them!

Tom Dunkel: Must admit I was surpised how many skips stay on FB and MySpace. Seems a no-brainer to me. But, then, there's no IQ test required to break the law.


Fredericksburg, Va: Do you utilize equipment that is not commercially available? In other words, military equipment?

Dave Jenny: Actually, we use equipment that the general public can purchase. For example, the GPS tracking units are becoming popular for tracking teenagers, spouses, etc... and that popularity made it affordable for us bail bonding companies. Saves a lot of surveillance time and has a high success rate!


Sterling, VA: So in one instance here... "...A visibly perturbed man answered the door in his underwear. The Freedom team proceeded to politely but firmly search the premises. Six sleepy-eyed people popped out of bedrooms.

No sign of the skip."

What happens when you forcibly enter someone's house which you have no business entering? I'd take note of who you were and would return the favor with a shotgun if it were my house that you busted into.

Tom Dunkel: Let me first mention, the Freedom team did not forcefully enter underwear man's house. They explained the situation. He (reluctantly) let them in. Of course, you'd be in trouble if you entered without authority...BUT they have a wide range of authority and usually don't need a warrant.


Reston, Va: Do bounty hunters also contract with debt collection agencies? How wide is the spectrum of service?

Dave Jenny: We do not, however, I imagine that there are many that do. It would be a very similar profession and all of the same skills would come in very handy. Same with auto repossession, private investigations, etc.


Maryland: David Jenny, Marry Me? ;)

Tom Dunkel: Hey, what about the writer and photographer? We are both WAY cooler than Dave...and keep more normal working hours.


Interesting article: This was very interesting and I find it surprising that there were so many negative comments on the on-line site. As in any profession, there are the "hotdogs" who seem to just want to make a name for themself rather than do the hard work necessary to track people down. You showed how difficult it can be. My question is this: do you take social security numbers at the time of making a bond so that you could track the individual thru that if they get a job?

Dave Jenny: Thank you for your comment and questions. Yes, the defendant fills out a Defendant Application at the time of bond. We get their name, address, date of birth, social security number, stats, references, job info/car info if any, etc.

The social security does come in very handy mostly due to the use of applying for credit/leases. I can't say its helped me too much in finding someone's employment. Unfortunately, these defendants are not getting those kinds of jobs... if any.


Richmond, Va: Do you hire bikers to do some of the ground work? Say, Rolling Thunder?

Dave Jenny: Why, are you interested in employment? Gunny is a big motorcycle enthusiast, so stop by Freedom and say hello!


Davis, Calif.: Do they have bounty hunters in other W.E.I.R.D. nations (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) or is it unique to the USA?

Tom Dunkel: I believe bail bonding is used only in the U.S. and Philippines.

Here's a tidbit. Bonding has its roots in medieval England, where the person guaranteeing the bond for a defendant had to put up himself as collateral. Meaning, if the guy skipped town, you went on trial in his place.


Guarantee: Do any states allow you to go after property if someone skips bail? If they are going to lose a car or house would they stay put?

Dave Jenny: I cannot speak for all states, but I'd imagine its similar if not the very same.... here at Freedom in Virginia, we have an Indemnitor (co-signer) sign responsibility for the defendant if there miss court. If we cannot find them, or spend a great deal of time/money apprehending them, they are financially responsible. If they do not pay the bill, we easily obtain judgments against them. If they still do not pay, then we can resort to Sheriff auctions, liens against property, etc.


vathinker1: I fail to see why people feel so bad for those who would dare to jump bail. That's just flat out stupid. Why would you think its ok to miss your court appearance and potentially screw over those who bailed you out so you could continue your pathetic life? If you're in enough trouble to need a bailbond company to help, then you're not exactly making smart decisions to begin with. Quit crying about how people and society are so hard on you. Be an adult and take responsibility for your actions.

Dave Jenny: I agree. Unfortunately, there have been quite a few very serious incidents involving unprofessional bounty hunters. However, it is the same in any profession. There are unfortunately a lot of incidents across the nation involving police officers, like the video recently in Texas. They are dealt with, as were the unprofessional bounty hunters, and the rest continue working professionally. Should we get rid of the police because of the bad eggs? Of course not. I was also amazed that some people are practically siding with the CRIMINAL, with the opinion that bondsmen and their agents shouldn't have the authorities over them that they have. It would be Impossible for the police to relocate all of these defendants and still do their job of catching the new criminals in the act. Bail Bondsmen enter a private contract and ensure their appearance in court at no cost to the taxpayer!!!


omarsidd: Not much discussion of the overreach of these hunters who are not sworn peace-officers. Eg, the lady who was abducted cross-country could a) have pressed federal kidnapping and false imprisonment charges, and b) killed the assailant by any means available, since it would clearly be self-defense.

Tom Dunkel: "Overreach" is not overlooked. In fact, I think the Virginia legislature is considering some new provisions now. Legit bail enforcement agents don't want cowboys around. BTW, I think that woman mistakenly taken to Alabama sued the bounty hunter and won a substanial amount...$1 mil sticks in my mind.


Fairfax, Va: I can't see how such an industry can be profitable - especially now that gas is $3.00 a gal. And if someone skips town and flys thousands of miles away, the costs add up real fast.

Are you ultimately able to recover costs with the county?

Tom Dunkel: This is a "Dave" question...but I believe there are provisions for bail bondsmen to charge a skip for their time and expense in apprehending him/her.


Reston, VA: How is a citizen supposed to tell the difference between legitimate bounty hunters and criminals carrying out a robbery, home invasion, or a kidnapping? Many citizens would not trust a bounty hunter's ID. Do citizens have the right to call 911 if people claiming to be bounty hunters show up? What happens if a citizen thinks that a bounty hunter is really a violent criminal and shoots the bounty hunter? There are a lot of issues about bounty hunters and citizens trying to protect themselves.

Dave Jenny: This is what makes our job dangerous. We are also concerned that we could be mistaken for burglars, etc. This is why VA DCJS requires, and we completely agree with, the regulation of having us notify the local police before we arrive at an address. That way, since the citizen of course has the absolute right to call 911, and in my opinion, they should if they are not sure (burglars could imitate the police, not just bounty hunters)... we are not held at gun point by the police when they arrive. Instead, the 911 operator sees the note that we are there, notifies the citizen, and then sends a unit out as well to assist. It has happened to us many times. Honestly, I would react the same way at my home. It amazes how many people have let us in without asking for ID!

If the bounty hunter acts professionally, as we do, they citizen would not be frightened enough to shoot us. However, if the bounty hunter kicks in the door without announcing themselves, of course the citizen would react in fear/self defense. It is my fear that someone would over react with a professional bail enforcement agent acting within their authority, and find themselves in trouble when maybe having nothing to do with the case.


Richmond, Va: Do you use DNA?

Tom Dunkel: Only to occasionally track down missing editors....oh, wait, I guess that's a "Dave" question. Sorry. :)


TV show: What's your take on Dog the Bounty Hunter? Is it accurate/fair? Has it been a good thing or a problem in your industry?

Dave Jenny: I have personally only watched Dog's TV show a handful of times. It is an accurate representation of the process. However, we tend to use different tactics. Remember, its for TV. They tend to just hit houses, and then have to clean up the mess that made their job now harder... relying on relatives to then snitch on the person that will surely receive a call that they are being looked for right after they snitch to get Dog to leave the house. I can't say its has been a negative or positive thing for our industry, but I will say that I get asked about it EVERY SINGLE DAY. I hope that viewers do not actually believe that this job is as portrayed by the Dog! This article was great to have written, but I have no interest on being on TV!


Stupid criminals: Any examples of the dumbest and smartest skips you've encountered?

Tom Dunkel: Lemme mention here a skip story I had to cut out of the article for space reasons. There was a call girl, let's call her "Megan", who had clients all over the country. She'd come into a city for a few days, do her business, then move on. While in the DC area she lifted some merchandise from a Tyson's Corner store, got caught...and sipped out on Freedom Bail Bonding. She was based in, I think CA or FL. Anyhow, she had this food fetish, where she'd turn tricks in cities where she wanted to sample the local cuisine.

Dave finally nabbed her in Philadelphia. Cheese steak was her undoing.


Crystal City, Va.: Tom-

Scott here. Just wanted to compliment you on a very well written article. Good luck and it was a pleasure meeting you.

Tom Dunkel: Hiya, Scott. Thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the piece. Likewise enjoyed our time together. Hope all's well with you...and the new bambino!


For Dave and Dave: How long have you been bounty hunting? How has the game changed since you started?

Dave Jenny: Dave Gambale has been bounty hunting since 1986! I have been since March of 2008. I can't see I have seen much change, but Mr. Gambale has! Our population has grown, technology has blown up, and transportation/relocation is extremely easy these days... leading us out of state probably far more than in the past!


Clifton, VA: You knock on the door looking for my bro who skipped. I dont let you in. What to you do? I ask you to leave and get off my property. I assume you are armed so out comes my SCAR 17.

Tom Dunkel: "SCAR 17". Hmm. guess, that's a brand of scotch I'm not familiar with. understanding is bounty hunters don't need a warrant to search the house of a SKIP, but would in most other cases. Needless to say, they've got to obey the law...but the law is heavily on their side.


Losing money: I thought the co-signer was responsible for the bond. Aren't they the ones who forfeit the money if the person skips?

Dave Jenny: You are correct. However, they don't always turn out to be good signers. Some elect to not help, not pay, and sometimes we find out there are a long line of creditors that did not appear on their credit report... waiting to get their money in court... ahead of us!


Tom Dunkel: My thanks to everyone for stopping by. Thanks for the good questions...and, please, stay out of trouble.


Orlando, FL: Have you been in life-threatening situations? Gunfights, etc.?

Dave Jenny: Fortunately, not yet! Some very exciting foot chases though :)


Chicago, IL: I don't know if Tom and Dave are aware or if any of the readers know, but unauthorized access to someone's e-mail account is illegal under both the Electronic Communications Privacy Act(ECPA) and the Stored Communications Act(SCA), which is exactly what Jenny did when he logged into Rehak's AOL account.

Dave Jenny: This has been a VERY popular comment and question, and I will choose to answers yours only... as the rest were not as polite as yours... and you referenced specific laws... so thank you.

At the time of bond, the defendant is required to fill out a Defendant Application with us. Name, address, DOB, social, references, job/car, etc... and then at the bottom a very SPECIFIC clause that they agree to.... but I will summarize: They give up ANY and ALL privacy rights, period. This is includes electronic, and otherwise. We have many times been able to successfully acquire otherwise private information from hospitals, government agencies, apartment complexes, etc using this application that is signed, dated and witnessed at time of bond.

We also consult with our company attorney before we employ any of our new creative ways to locate criminals. Believe me, we do not and will not act beyond our authority as we do not want to risk losing our licenses which would be followed by losing our employment, and especially ending up in jail with the people we surrendered the night before.

Bounty Hunting authority is widely unknown and some of the grounds for this article. We can force entry (of a confirmed defendant address/defendant confirmed inside) WITHOUT a warrant, etc. Police need a warrant. While the police may have more resources than we do, and better legal protection, we have met many that enjoy working with us as they can piggy back into a house behind us under our authority.

Thank you again for posting your question in a mature way, and I am more than happy to point this out and clear this up! So yes, if you skip bond on us and we have a signed defendant application on file, I can and will access your e-mail or any other private information for the purposes of finding you!

Dave Jenny: Our insurance contract, which is approved by the Commonwealth of Virginia, contains a waiver by the person bonded of all electronic privacy rights. Also, when we are engaged in recovery activity, we are cloaked with the authority of the Commonwealth as a matter of law. We are, after all, in pursuit of fleeing fugitives and employ the same tools used by law enforcement agencies. Sarah Palin is neither a fugitive from justice nor has she waived her electronic privacy rights by written contract.


Dave Jenny: Mr. Gambale and I would like to thank the Washington Post, Tom Dunkel and Hector Emanuel for doing this story on Freedom Bail Bonding. We hope that Virginia's regulation of bail enforcement spreads to other states! Thank you to the readers for all of your questions and comments, and we hope you enjoyed the article! Stop by Freedom Bail Bonding in Fairfax, VA for a free T-Shirt!


Baltimore MD: Yeah, I really have to wonder about all the negative comments. I wonder if people like the first poster realize that a skip might have run out on his elderly mother, who put her house up as collateral for a bond. If people don't want to deal with bounty hunters, there's an easy answer: show up for your hearing and/or trial.

By the way, the Oscar-nominated movie Winter's Bone has a small, but sympathetic, portrait of a bail bondsman in the Missouri Ozarks who has the rough job of explaining to a young girl what the consequences for her family will be if her meth cooking father, who pledged the family's timberland, doesn't show up in court.

Dave Jenny: Thanks for the post!


Washington DC Criminal Lawyer: I was very impressed by the apparent thoroughness and avoidance of brutality manifested by Mr. Jenny in connection with the article.

I wish that all "bounty hunters" were to comport themselves similarly. I have represented parties in matters in which bounty hunters have falsely identified themselves (in one case, on tape, claiming to be a Federal ICE immigration agent); committed assaults against innocent third-parties; and in one case, extorted a bribe larger than the defaulted bail amount to release an absconded bailee, who had an obvious interest in remaining at large. I have been approached by prospective clients whose homes have been invaded by bounty hunters who, in several cases, were nowhere near their targeted addresses, and who fled upon realizing their mistakes, making it difficult for them to be identified and compelled to remedy the significant property damage they had caused.

By and large, bounty hunting activities are not eligible for customary commercial property/casualty insurance of the type that private detectives and security contractors are required to carry. Instead, bounty hunters typically have limited public-liability coverages that do not protect people the bounty hunters may rightly or wrongly detain -- only third parties.

Unfortunately, this commercial activity is substantially under-regulated. There is absolutely no legal requirement, in any jurisdiction anywhere, that a bounty hunter first advise the "demanding agency" (the police agency with jurisdiction over the absconded person) of the commencement of pursuit. There likewise is no legal requirement anywhere that, immediately upon apprehension, the bounty hunter bring the abscond to local authorities at least so as to regsister the apprehension and correctly, positively identify the person. There is no legal requirement, anywhere, that a bounty hunter immediately advise law enforcement of any forcible entry made by or for the bounty hunter. These three steps should be required in every case, at the very least. But no one, not even Mr. Jenny, is required to take these common-sense steps. As a result, bounty hunters in the U.S. are involved in literally thousands of illegal apprehensions (really a form of kidnapping) and breaking-and-entering, every year.

Dave Jenny: Thanks for the post!


Unfair commentary: The comments about bondsmen being as bad as repo men is ridiculous. If people paid their bills and showed up in court there wouldn't be a problem. Don't blame the messenger and take some personal responsibility.

Dave Jenny: Thank you for you post!


db16: I don't see what the problem is here ... if you don't want to do business with bail bondsmen, then simply don't.

If you get arrested and need to post a bond to be free while awaiting trial ... then either pay it yourself in full or simply stay incarcerated until your jury trial ends in a few weeks or months. Nobody is required to do business with bail bondsmen.

And that is all it is ... a business relationship. Of course if you DO enter into a business agreement with a bail bondsman to appear for your court dates, and you break the agreement, then OF COURSE you will be subject to being brought in by the very bail bondsman that you chose to do business with.

It's just good business ... for everybody.

Dave Jenny: Thank you for your post!


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