After 37 days and a cross-country hunt, two bondsmen and bounty hunters, known only as Cobra and Tank, finally caught their fugitive.
Christopher Riendeau of East Naples was wanted for failure to appear in court on various drug charges and for questioning after suspicious materials were found in his apartment, forcing the evacuation of nearby residents.
"I’m just getting back from a trip from hell," said Cobra, making reference to both a line from the Molly Hatchett song "Bounty Hunter" and his more than monthlong search for Riendeau.
Cobra, who is a bondsman for The Bail Bonds Firm in Miami, said due to their line of work, they wouldn’t share their full names — only their nicknames.
The search for Riendeau stands apart from the approximately 8,000 cases Cobra has worked, he said.
"We have never run into somebody like this," Cobra said. "It seems like this man had some experience."
Cobra and his partner, Tank, brought Riendeau back to Collier County on June 21.
Their hunt for Riendeau began when Cobra stopped by Riendeau’s apartment at 337 Robin Hood Circle to collect bond payment after Riendeau didn’t appear in court. When Cobra got there, Riendeau was nowhere to be found, but Cobra said he did find suspicious materials in the apartment.
So he notified authorities to come investigate the apartment, Cobra said.
Residents of Robin Hood Circle off Radio Road were forced to evacuate their homes for eight hours while investigators searched the apartment. Hours later, officials determined the suspicious materials were inactive, according to Collier County Sheriff’s Office reports.
Meanwhile, the hunt for Riendeau ensued.
Through 16 states, Cobra and Tank searched for Riendeau, piecing together clues along the way.
The first place they followed him was to Rhode Island, where his grandmother lived. Riendeau had his mail transferred there, but he didn’t stay there long, Cobra said.
"Then we followed his trail back down to Georgia," he said.
Along the way Cobra said he and Tank had believed Riendeau was prepared to defend himself and that he didn’t want to go to jail. They also speculated Riendeau had been working for the federal government to help catch people involved in buying and selling drugs.
While Riendeau was on the run, he used several false identifications and passed by state troopers in his travels, according to Cobra.
"Five state troopers had come across him, but let him go," Cobra said.
Riendeau was using identification of a Naples man named Rusten Carvajal, Cobra said.
Carvajal apparently had lost his wallet, including his U.S. permanent resident card and his driver’s license, Cobra said.
Riendeau was using Carvajal’s identification, but had cut out the picture and replaced it with his own, Cobra said.
Along with assuming a false identity, Riendeau periodically obtained ghost phones and changed his mailing address, Cobra said.
Using cell phone records, Cobra said he was able to figure out who Riendeau was communicating with while on the road. Based on calls made to Tennessee and Florida unemployment agencies, Cobra believed Riendeau was trying to collect unemployment.
The hunt continued through Massachusetts, to Texas, then back to Alabama, through the Carolinas, to Kentucky and finally to Clarksville, Tenn., where they eventually caught up with him, Cobra said.
Riendeau had set up residency as a Tennessee voter, and then he went to Kentucky and obtained a driver’s license with his Tennessee address and a false name, Cobra said.
While staying close to his tracks, Cobra noticed Riendeau had developed patterns in his behavior. For example, he never went back to the same place twice, never stayed more than seven days in one place and liked to stay near military bases, Cobra said.
In addition, every place Riendeau went, he stayed by a major highway in a second-floor room facing the highway.
Tank and Cobra both said this is likely because Riendeau wanted a passive overview of a main road for comfort.
"He really screwed up in Clarksville," Cobra said. "They only had first-floor rooms, and he took a corner room."
When Cobra determined for sure where Riendeau was, he called local law enforcement for backup.
"We’d like you guys to back us up," he said he asked, but they declined to come along. "They sat across the street and just observed."
Because Cobra and Tank believed Riendeau was armed and willing to shoot to kill, they knew they had to move carefully.
"We blocked in his red Dodge Durango," Cobra said, "and we exploded the door open.
"We were very, very nervous when we hit that door," Cobra said. "When we came in he was naked in the bed and he lunged for his gun."
Although the weapon was within arm’s reach, Riendeau couldn’t reach his gun while the two 6-foot men were pinning him down, Cobra said.
"We jumped on him like animals," Cobra said. "He gave up without a fight."
Along with Riendeau, they also seized two loaded guns in the hotel room with him, Cobra said.
"If we’d have given him a second chance, he’d have taken our life," Tank said.
Once they caught Riendeau, they drove about 11 hours back to Collier County, where they turned him in to the Collier Sheriff’s Office.
Naples jail commander Joe Bastys said he saw Cobra and Tank bring in Riendeau to the Sheriff’s Office. Occasionally, Bastys sees bondsmen bring in people they think might "skip," but it isn’t often he sees two bondsmen bring in a fugitive, he said.
And it isn’t often one case takes 37 days for Cobra and Tank.
"In 37 days, my average would probably be 15 arrests," Cobra said.
Following his location and arrest, Riendeau remains jailed without bond, according to the Collier Sheriff’s Office.
He is charged with failure to appear in court on April 16 on these charges: nine counts of the sale of drugs, three counts of trafficking illegal drugs, one count of trafficking cocaine, one count of possession of 20 grams of marijuana, one count of trafficking of phenethylamine (a psychedelic substance) and one count of possession of drugs.
He previously was arrested and charged with the various drug counts in May 2005. Riendeau’s bond was set at $100,000, according to Collier County records.
Their payment for bringing in Riendeau was $20,000, which they split 50-50, Cobra said.
"I told him, if there is a next time, I’m not going after you," Cobra said he told Riendeau after he and Tank had captured him.
As for the man’s identification Riendeau was using on the run, Cobra and Tank were able to meet up with Carvajal recently in Naples to return his identification to him, Cobra said.
This was important to Carvajal because he wanted to visit his grandmother in Costa Rica next month, but he needed identification for his trip, Cobra said.
‘Bond ‘em’ and ‘chase ‘em’
When bail bond companies sign for large bonds, it becomes a priority to bondsmen to make sure the client shows up in court.
Jean Gonzalez is a bail bondsman for Collier County Bail Bonds in Naples.
While every day is different, he said going out to look for people who need to pay is sometimes necessary.
"Ten thousand (dollars) or up, we’re going to go look for him," Gonzalez said.
When it comes to looking for someone, Collier County Bail Bonds doesn’t hire outside people to do their searches, Gonzalez said. Their bondsmen do their own work.
"We’re employees, and that’s part of the job," Gonzalez said. "New York is probably the farthest I’ve gone."
Carmen Cruz of Nickel American Bail Bonds said she had heard of Cobra and Tank, but wasn’t acquainted with them.
According to Cruz, Nickel American Bail Bonds only searches for people in Florida.
"We don’t go out of state," Cruz said.
If the person is in another state, then they find someone within their insurance company in that state, Cruz said.
"You figure, in Naples, about 88 percent comply," Cruz said.
Often, the collateral that people put up when they sign for a bail bond will take care of necessary payment, or family members will pay, Cruz said. The larger the bond, the more incentive there is to appear in court, according to Cruz.
"The bigger bonds, guys go to court," Cruz said.
But if someone doesn’t appear, the chase is on.
"I bond ‘em and I chase ‘em," Cruz said. "To be a full-fledged bail agent is to do both."