The business of bail bonds, relates Spencer Cootware, is not like what you might have seen on television. “It’s always portrayed as rough, tough, bring ’em in dead or alive, and it’s so not like that,” he said. “We are not ‘Dog, the Bounty Hunter.’ ”
Cootware owns Nickel Bail Bonds and A American Bail Bonds. The companies’ office on Airport-Pulling Road is within sight of the Collier County jail. “If you want to go into law enforcement, go into law enforcement,” he advised. “Less excitement is good. It is dangerous to go after somebody, even for petty theft. You don’t know who’s on the other side of that door. You make your money writing the bond, not chasing the person. If you’re chasing the person, you’re chasing your money.”
In his business, Cootware tries to keep things friendly, but he starts at a disadvantage; all his customers have just been arrested, so they’re not likely to be in a happy place. In fact, the place they are in, is jail.
“We get a lot of calls from wives, girlfriends, mom, dad, friends — and we get a lot of calls from jail,” said Cootware, explaining that once bail is set, it takes cash to get out and your deposit is subject to court costs, fines or any fees incurred by the defendant.
When Nickel Bail Bonds or another bail bondsman pays to bond out a suspect, though, they use a power of attorney, essentially a check, and the customer is only out the 10 percent fee a company charges for advancing the money. There is a $100 minimum, so any bail bond under $1,000 will cost a flat hundred dollars. Fines or court costs are handled directly with the courts.
Unlike many businesses, Nickel Bail Bonds accepts personal checks for its services. “Oh yeah, we take checks,” said Cootware. “I’ve only had one or two bounce in four years of owning the business. You gotta remember, your freedom would be at stake. If you follow all your bond conditions and show up in court, you’re good with us.”
Explained Cootware, “Basically, I’m an insurance company for the court. Unfortunately, we have people who can’t find their way to court.” If they skip out, he said, “That’s when we start looking for them – and I don’t like doing that.”
The company is accessible day or night, seven days a week. “We rock 24 hours a day. The only thing that separates me from this bail bond company or that one is how fast I can get you out – and if you like me,” said Cootware.
Bail bondsmen operate in a gray area of the law, Cootware said, but he pointed out they are regulated by the state of Florida. “We’re governed by the Department of Insurance. We’re just like a real estate agent or insurance broker.”
The company, he said, doesn’t employ anyone who is not a certified bail agent. “That takes 1-½ to two years. There’s a 120-hour course, plus a 40-hour correspondence course, and you have to intern for 12 consecutive months.”
Business is off in his industry, just like in the rest of the economy, said Cootware. “Nobody has any money to get into trouble. The thing we see most is probably people driving on a suspended license. Then you have your little marijuana possession, your pills and of course, DUI.
“You always think you’ve seen everything, and then you see something new,” he said. We had a 70-year old lady on Marco Island, who took a no trespassing sign off her neighbor’s lawn. We’ve had a couple of guys who went into the wrong apartment after a night of drinking. There was one guy who stole a $10 item in a store and had $5,000 in his pocket.”
Cootware downplays the bounty hunter image, but one might think differently after looking at the walls of his office, which are covered with posters of Sylvester Stallone and Samuel L. Jackson packing heat, and one from the movie, “Domino,” proclaiming “I am a bounty hunter.” A number of them, said Cootware, were gifts.
“We are allowed to carry weapons,” said Cootware. “We keep this bad boy here,” he said, displaying the Taser he keeps around the office for self-protection.
Originally from Tupper Lake, N.Y., Cootware, 48, has lived in Southwest Florida on and off for 37 years. He spent 20 years as a flight attendant. “I retired from US Airways when they took our pensions away.” Perhaps that background is why he stressed repeatedly that politeness pays off.
No matter whom they are, Cootware said, people respond well to being treated respectfully. “It’s easier to deal with people if you’re nice. A couple years ago, I took a guy to dinner – before I took him to jail.”