Bail Me

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Wells confirms that Watson put him in the business. And it came with no money down. Kinnard says Watson loaned Wells the $8,500 needed to open an office, which Kinnard set up as a favor to Watson. Within six weeks after the meeting, Wells and Allegheny obtained a license from the Dallas County Bail Bond Board.

Watson, who is now involved in lobbying in Washington as legal counsel for the bail insurance industry's national association, declined to return repeated phone calls placed over three weeks. West also did not return several calls to his office.

In Kinnard's view, Wells was a winner for Watson regardless of whether he ended up any closer to Royce West. With Wells' contacts in the defense bar--lawyers who need to get their clients out of jail--business flew in the door. After just a few months, he was writing $600,000 worth of bail bonds a month, says Kinnard, who left after about four months and now operates Bail Bonds Unlimited, which does about a tenth as much business as Wells.

Eddie Dees, owner of Fast Action Bonding, says his current bond total is down from about $10 million to $6 million because of business lost to Wells.

Says Wells, "I always was in the bond business. I just never got paid." Over the years he says he referred millions of dollars in business to Dees and other bondsmen. "They never paid me a dime," he says. In fact, it is illegal for a licensed bondsman to split fees with people outside the business. But nobody even thought to take him to lunch.

Now that he is in business for himself, Wells says the old guard is crying the blues.

If there is one thing that has stirred Wells' competitors into a frenzy of complaints, it is his deft escape last fall from having to forfeit a large bond. The curious thing was that a competitor with bonds on the same defendant was left on the hook. The facts are so well-discussed in bail-bond circles, it's known simply as the Dixon case.

On February 4, 2000, at about 10:30 p.m., two Dallas police officers entered a suspected East Dallas crack house and confronted 33-year-old Tarsl Dixon stuffing a bag of 13 white rocks into the front of her pants. The officers arrested Dixon, handcuffed her and sat her down outside the house. While they were questioning other suspects, Dixon jumped up and ran about 60 yards before she tripped and was caught again.

The incident netted Dixon two felony charges: possession of a controlled substance and escape, which by that point in her life seemed to be little more than an occupational expense. She was convicted for felony drug-dealing in 1990, convicted again for dealing in 1993 and sentenced to five years in prison.

The day after her arrest, Express Bonding posted Dixon's $30,000 bail. "I've done bonds for her before," says owner Betty Lou Moran, who made $3,000 on the transaction. "With drug dealers, you want to get your money up front."

Moran, a boot-tough, scratchy-voiced woman, got into the business 11 years ago as a way to put an inheritance to work. Her father owned a local gas-station chain and car washes in West and South Dallas. He gave her a multimillion-dollar property on Greenville Avenue that she has posted as collateral with the county, against which she writes her bail bonds.

Less than two months after Dixon was back on the street, a Dallas patrolman spotted a blue 1971 Lincoln barreling through a red light in West Dallas. Dixon was at the wheel. In the passenger seat was a professional-grade electronic scale. Dixon, who tried to pass off another woman's license as her own, was carrying $1,253 in cash, money she claimed was a tax refund despite her lack of a regular job. When police later searched the car, an arrest affidavit states, they found two large crack chunks behind the ashtray in the dash.

Within 24 hours, Dixon made bail again. This time, though, she went to Wells. He says he charged $5,000 for the $50,000 bond that went along with the new felony charge. When state District Judge Janice Warder kept the two earlier bail bonds in force rather than increase them, Dixon was free to go.

Dixon was a model client, says Moran, as she had been in the past. She was required to report to the bond office weekly, and one of Moran's sign-in cards shows Dixon penned her name 51 times, with dates next to each signature.

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec