R5 Q&A with Bail Bondman and Purchase Resident Ira Judelson

What exactly is a bail bondsman?
In the nicest possible terms, it’s a legal loan shark. I loan money at a rate of six to ten percent to people who are in jail so they can get out while awaiting trial.

How and why did Dominique Strauss-Kahn come to you?
His attorneys recommended me. His bail was five million dollars and, while they could have gotten it together in a week, they didn’t want him to wait in jail. He put up some cash and some property as collateral.

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What was working with him like?
Intriguing. Here he was possibly a future president of France and such a prominent figure in the International Monetary Fund and his wife is very elegant—like the Barbara Walters of France. I believed he was innocent.

What sparked your interest in doing this kind of work?
I met a criminal defense attorney’s client who was facing a five-year prison term. I asked him why he wouldn’t run and skip out on his bail money. He said because his mother had put up her house as collateral. The wheels started to spin.

What’s the difference between a bail bondsman and a bounty hunter?
People often don’t understand that I am not Dog the Bounty Hunter. A bondsman lends money so someone can get out of jail while awaiting trial and a bounty hunter tracks down fugitives who have skipped bail.

Why do people hire you—and not go to a bank or to relatives for their bail money?
Banks won’t lend money for this purpose so, in essence, we are their bank. And many people’s relatives just don’t have the money and others who do might not have their assets liquid.

Who are your typical clients?
They come from all walks of life. Eighty percent of them have never been arrested before and they’re scared and nervous. I’m like a social worker, shrink, and lawyer all in one. And an employee agency—I often give these guys jobs when they get out.

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How much is the typical bond you write?
It ranges anywhere from twenty-five hundred to five million and I write between one and two thousand of them a year. For every bond, the client is required to put up the equivalent amount of collateral, in real estate, cash, jewelry, etc.

Do you carry a gun?
Yes, but I’ve never had to use it.
How many of your clients end up skipping bail?
The national rate of forfeiture in the United States is six percent but I try to keep mine about two percent.

Who has been your most memorable client?
David Lemus, a Bronx kid with no money who was incarcerated sixteen years for a crime he didn’t commit—a 1990 shooting at the Palladium nightclub in Manhattan. I offered my services pro bono and was able to get him out on bond. The case was re-tried and he was fully acquitted in 2007, fourteen years after he was incarcerated. We became close and I helped him get a job—it was extremely rewarding.   

So, does crime pay?
For me it does. For the criminals, not so much.

Photo by John Rizzo

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