Da Sleazy Kine: More on the bail bond industry

Justice Reinvestment Initiative’s (JRI) analysts and the bail industry’s reaction during the Hawai‘i’s last legislative session heightened CAP’s interest in researching the bail industry. As you may already know, the bail industry was really hateful during last session’s JRI bills. They were brought in by Honolulu prosecutor, Keith Kaneshiro to help fight for his lock `em up and throw away the key position.

It is clear that CAP is not alone in recognizing the significance of understanding the bail industry’s influence in the criminal justice system. Last month, Justice Policy Institute published three bail reports, revealing that several states have banned for-profit bail companies. Hawai‘i was featured in the second report, in which Justice Policy Institute discussed the antics of Duane “Dog” Chapman, aka “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” as “[a]n example of the strength of the for-profit bail industry’s fight against reasonable and cost-effective pretrial reforms.” (Here for the excerpt.)

A few days ago, Bill Moyer’s show, entitled “United States of ALEC,” highlighted the bail industry’s sleazy tactics and its membership in ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), which is heavily supported by the Koch brothers. Below you will find a link to the video of Bill Moyer’s show and an excerpt from the transcript that discusses the bail industry.

And if you are not outraged yet, check out the excerpt below from a book by Mark Panke, a UH Hilo English professor, entitled, Big Happiness: The Life and Death of a Modern Hawaiian Warrior, about the murder of a Hawaiian man who was a sumo wrestler. The excerpt is about Duane “Dog” Chapman’s Da Kine Bail Bonds.

Bill Moyer’s Show: United States of Alec
September 28, 2012

Moyers & Company presents “United States of ALEC,” a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of — ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership”. But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.

Using interviews, documents, and field reporting, the episode explores ALEC’s self-serving machine at work, acting in a way one Wisconsin politician describes as “a corporate dating service for lonely legislators and corporate special interests.”

In state houses around the country, hundreds of pieces of boilerplate ALEC legislation are proposed or enacted that would, among other things, dilute collective bargaining rights, make it harder for some Americans to vote, and limit corporate liability for harm caused to consumers — each accomplished without the public ever knowing who’s behind it.

“All of us here are very familiar with ALEC and the influence that ALEC has with many of the [legislative] members,” says Arizona State Senator Steve Farley. “Corporations have the right to present their arguments, but they don’t have the right to do it secretly.”

“United States of ALEC” is a collaboration between Okapi Productions, LLC and the Schumann Media Center, headed by Bill Moyers, which supports independent journalism and public watchdogs including the Center for Media and Democracy, whose investigators are featured in the report.

Excerpt from Transcript:

BILL MOYERS: Last year an online schooling bill based on the ALEC model turned up in another state where ALEC has a powerful influence: Tennessee. It was introduced in both the state senate and house by ALEC members. The bill passed, making private corporations eligible for public money for online education. Then within weeks the k-12 corporation got what amounted to a no-bid contract to provide online education to any Tennessee student from kindergarten through 8th grade.

So let’s review: The ALEC member corporations help craft the bill, ALEC legislators introduce it and vote on it, and now there’s a state law on the books that enables one of those corporations to get state money. Game, set, match. But remember: this story isn’t about one company in the education industry and one law in Tennessee. It’s about hundreds of corporations in most every industry, influencing lawmakers in state after state using ALEC as a front.

Here’s another example. The American Bail Coalition, which represents the bail bond industry, pulls no punches about writing ALEC’s model bills itself. In a newsletter a few years back, the coalition boasted that it had written 12 ALEC model bills “fortifying the commercial bail industry.” Here’s Jerry Watson, senior legal counsel for the coalition, speaking at an ALEC meeting in 2007. He has a law to offer.

JERRY WATSON: There is a model bill for you to review if you might be interested in introducing such a measure.

BILL MOYERS: He’ll even help legislators amend it.

JERRY WATSON: Now if you don’t like the precise language of these suggested documents, can they be tweaked by your legislative counsel? Well absolutely. And will we work with them on that and work with you and your staff on that? Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: All the lawmakers have to do is ring him up.

JERRY WATSON: There is a phone number there for our executive offices in Washington D.C. We are prepared to help you and your staff and support this legislation in any way that we can.

BILL MOYERS: And guess what? There’s gold at the end of the rainbow.

JERRY WATSON: But I’m not so crazy so as not to know that you’ve already figured out that If I can talk you into doing this bill, my clients are going to make some money on the bond premiums.

BILL MOYERS: And corporate interest conflated with the public interest.

JERRY WATSON: But if we can help you save crime victims in your legislative district and generate positive revenue for your state, and help solve your prison overcrowding problem, you don’t mind me making a dollar.

BILL MOYERS: ALEC members are seldom as upfront as the American Bail Coalition. In fact, ordinarily ALEC’s hand is very hard to see at all. But if you know where to look, you’ll often find ALEC hiding in plain sight.

• • •

BIG HAPPINESS: The Life and Death of a Modern Hawaiian Warrior
By Mark Panek
2011 University of Hawai`i Press

Excerpt from pages 179 – 182
Hawai`I residents also turned on their televisions that summer to see a hulking convicted felon with a  long, flowing  blond mullet and blond beard that together evoked an image of the Cowardly Lion on steroids. He dressed in black high-heeled boots, tight black pants, a black vest, and wrap-around  mirrored shades, with a can of mace and a pair of handcuffs clipped to his belt. Together with his hefty bleached-blond wife and two twenty-something sons who all could have come directly off the set of a Jerry Springer show – spouting out the worst kind of haole Pidgen, badly mispronouncing local names, and peppering his twangy Midwestern speech with “da kine” and “HOWzit, brah?” and “‘kay, ‘kay, ‘kay,” – he had come to Hawai`i to make his fortune, and there he was on the screen tracking down some wayward brown person with the hope of setting him on the straight and narrow.

Duane Chapman was his name. Or, as he preferred to be known, “Dog” the Bounty Hunter. Convicted in Texas on a murder charge, Chapman turned his “second chance” into a career of chasing bail jumpers.  Under the guise of “helping the people” and “cleaning up the streets,” he dreamed of fame and much bigger paychecks. He opened a chain of bond offices, including Da Kine Bail Bonds in downtown Honolulu, and began to cultivate a kind of super-hero catching-the-bad-guys image and even some notoriety long before appearing on TV. His long-term plans began to fall into place when he flew down to Mexico in 2003 with his associates and, most importantly, a video camera, to “hunt” for the well-known

Heir of a huge cosmetics fortune who had been convicted  of rape. The resulting footage started a bidding war between CBS and A&E for a series of Dog the Bounty Hunter shows set mostly in Hawai`I – Chapman’s “decompression chamber.” “Dog sat out at Makapu`u Point for days doing the investigation on his cell phone,” his wife is quoted as saying at the time of the negotiations. And then, to evoke  the show’s other major hook: “He pieced the entire investigation right where he feels closest to the Lord.”

A&E won the bidding war at the start of 2004, with Chapman saying, “I am so very happy about this deal, and at the bottom of my heart, I promise to make Hawai`I proud.”  The drill quickly became familiar to viewers: the Chapmans drive past some postcard tropical scenery and speculate to build dramatic tension for the impending chase,and they bicker with one another about some trivial family matter to create a subplot to the chase story. They enter a poor neighborhood and Dog knocks on a door, melting into a patronizing we’re-here-to-help-your-daddy tone when he addresses the little kid who answers. Then the chase is on. To apprehend the fugitive, Chapman and the rest of his haole associates employ a technique they call “Hawaiian Style,” which he defines as follows: “Just like a sumo, we grab them quick and get them down.” (Chapman fails to elaborate on how such a scrum has anything to do with either sumo or Hawaiian culture.) It ends with the crying bounty in the back of an SUV, the now-benevolent Dog giving the guy a cigarette and convincing him that everyone’s on his side. “That’s the ride to jail, their last ride, when I lecture them,” Chapman explained to the Honolulu Star Bulletin, going on to offer a sample lecture: “Even if you make a mistake, you can change, but I tell ya brother, if you insist on making mistakes, we’re goin’ to get ya every time.” The assumption is that Chapman is helping the bail jumper, and giving him a chance to learn his lesson in prison. If all goes well, Dog gets the jumper’s grudging thanks. If it’s an adult with a teenage son, Dog promises to give the kid some “side work” pulling weeds in his Kahala yard while Mommy or Daddy is away in jail. And then we all hold hands and pray.

It took over a year for anyone to point out the flaws in the show, so intoxicated were we all on the fact that “Hawai`i is  on TV! It’s like a free ad for tourism! Great for the economy!”  But University of Hawai`I sociologist Katherine Irwin and political scientist RaeDeen Keahiolalo Karasuda finally did so in an Advertiser  op-ed piece, pointing out that “eight out of ten of Hawai`i’s drug addicts do not receive drug treatment services while incarcerated,” and also the majority return to society without rehabilitation ,and two-thirds return to prison within a few years.” They underscore the oft-cited statistic that Native Hawaiians fill over 40 percent of Hawai`i’s prisons, and then make the natural connection between what Chapmandoes when he’s “closest to the Lord” and Hawai`i’s long and troubled missionary history , saying that now,  criminal justice agents and this reality TV show tell us that the key to public safety is to incarcerate Native Hawaiians—at a rate double that of any other ethnicity in the state.”

The major irony of the law and order hook in Chapman’s show is that most if not all of the “fugitives” that the Chapmans throw down “Hawaiian Style” were put out on the street by Chapman himself in the first place, who posted their bail through Da Kine Bail Bonds. A Hawai`i Business profile on Chapman later explained how bail bonding businesses work: someone is arrested and charged and stuck in jail, not yet convicted and awaiting trial. A judge sets a bail price, which is usually far too high for the arrestee to afford.  The arrestee’s family scrapes together ten percent of the bail, which they pay to a bail bondsman such as Chapman. The arrestee is then freed into Chapman’s custody, and Chapman must guarantee that he appears at his court date. The article then quotes Bill Kreins of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States as saying, “You don’t write every bail that walks in your door. For the ones that you do write, you can minimize your losses with the collateral you’re holding.”

Da Kine Bail Bonds is all about losing money.

“I hate to say this, but I was a legend in my own mind,” Chapman is quoted as saying in the Hawai`i Business profile. “I knew I could make it, but I also knew that I needed something else besides bounty hunting. Wesley is our bookkeeper, and he was like, “Boss, we aren’t making it!”  I told him, ‘Wesley, we can do it if we can get a television show.’ And of course, we did. On the other hand, there wouldn’t be a television show if it wasn’t for Da Kine Bail Bonds.”

Chapman declined to reveal to the Star-Bulletin what he was paid for the show’s first season, saying it was “not much,” but then he went on to joke about how much money he now has to throw around to get information on the streets. “Money is the root of all snitches,” he said. “Information that used to cost $100 is now $1,000.”

When the people he is chasing are his own clients, though, I can’t imagine Chapman having to dig too often into the snitch fund. If one were to follow Bill Kreins’ advice about weeding out potential flight risks, one would come close to what he cites as an industry standard of only 10%* of bonds failing to show up for their court dates. The failure rate for Da Kine clients, according to Hawai`i Business, is three times this industry standard.  But as it turns out, that’s all part of the business plan: look for potential flight risks, post their bail, and hope they run so you’ll have material for the real cash cow – the television show. Chapman’s wife doesn’t even attempt to hide this feed-the-TV-beast formula, saying, “I always say I write bonds to support my husband’s bounty hunting career. If they have a pulse, I’ll write a bond.

*Note: They testified that the national failure rate was 55%. Makes you wonder about their credibility, that of the Honolulu Prosecutor and Rep. Ward, who actually gave them a proclamation on the floor of the House several years ago! Here’s the link to their testimony.

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