By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Wells' magic bullet was a copy of such a document, unsigned by a judge and date-stamped by an unidentified court clerk six weeks before Dixon disappeared. The place where the clerk is supposed to initial was blank.
The belated appearance of the affidavit on the sizable bond aroused more than a little suspicion from Moran and a number of Wells' competitors. "I don't think it's kosher," she says. Her records show Dixon came into her office on December 20, 2000, and signed in. Wells' affidavit stating Dixon was not reporting and ready to bolt was dated only two days later. How could Dixon have been behaving with one bondsman and skipping on another? She needed to stay on top of both bonds to remain on the street.
Beyond those questions, however, all Moran can offer are murky, unsubstantiated theories based on her low opinion of the business in general.
"This is a crooked business," says Moran, who a few years ago sued a competitor for placing an ad in the phone book listing her business name and the competitor's phone number. "A lot of scamming and cheating goes on because it's so hard to make a living at it."
Two other established bondsmen say they question the last-minute appearance of the precious document, and the fact that Wells' lawyer defended the case for eight months as if it did not exist. "If you had an absolute defense, wouldn't you bring it up a little earlier?" asks Dees, the bondsman, who has served two terms as the industry member of the county bail bond board, which oversees the business.
"The Dixon case set the whole business off on David," says Gray, who has been writing bonds in Dallas for eight years.
But that is only half the story.
Assistant District Attorney Moira Parro, who represented the county in the forfeiture hearing, says she saw nothing irregular in what happened with Wells' bond. "Occasionally, a bondsman will come to court and say, 'Look, the clerk must have lost the document. I have my copy here.' I don't know why it wasn't brought up earlier, but the judge was satisfied."
Todd, Wells' attorney, says there was "some miscommunication" between him and Wells, explaining why he brought in the document when he did. "I handle dozens of cases for him at a time," Todd says. He says he presented the affidavit at an appropriate time, and it was accepted.
For his part, Wells says the affidavit is proof he and his staff keep on top of his clients better than some of his competitors and critics. "I take care of my business...She didn't check in, and I went off her bond." As proof, he pulls up a computer file showing his system for keeping track of his clients, which county records show number more than 1,000. The record that flashes up on the screen shows that Wells' record-keeping, however, didn't compare to Moran's on this potential $50,000 liability. The computer record lists Dixon checking into Wells' office only a few times by phone the entire time she was on the bond.
Wells says he and his staff contact clients in the week before court appearances. And while he can't recall the specific dates, he says it was during such a check that he became concerned about Dixon.
The case is among those being reviewed in the sheriff's department probe, Moran says. "They asked me questions about it."
A woman, one of Wells' bail clients, came into his office claiming to know Dixon's whereabouts. "She'd taken up with the woman's husband," says Wells, who sent the woman to Moran's office. "I did her [Moran] a favor," he adds.
Motivated by spite, jealousy or the $750 snitch fee Moran says she paid, the jilted woman led Moran's bounty hunters to Dixon, who remained in the city but switched addresses, phone numbers and cars to stay out of sight. She is now tucked in jail and held on a parole violation that precludes bail.
Wells says his location in the heart of Oak Cliff puts him closer to everything: potential clients, missing clients and what he dubs on his calling card, "our community."
Over the years, black bondsmen have been able to do a little business by catering to the neighborhood. "People like to do business with people they're comfortable with," Wells says.
But nobody before Wells climbed to the top doing it.
The conventional route to success has had two ingredients, Wells' competitors say: full-page Yellow Pages ads costing tens of thousands of dollars a year and a location near Lew Sterrett Justice Center, the county jail. That is why there's a village of portable buildings along Commerce and Industrial, complete with blaring signs and promises of discounts. They share a certain hard-bitten edge, with functional metal desks and tile floors. In one, a clerk smoked behind a no-smoking sign. In another, a sign read, "Have a complaint. Take a number." On the number hook was a plastic grenade.