Chance is all that separates someone who drinks alcohol and drives home with no incident from some other drinking driver who gets arrested, says bail bondsman Roger P. Tallini.
“There’s not a lot of difference between the people inside of jail and the people out. The difference is luck,” he says.
Tallini is one of the individuals that girlfriends, friends and parents call to bail out someone arrested in northern Arizona or even other states.
He bets on the probability that the people he bails out of jail will turn up for future court hearings and verdicts - and they do in the vast majority of cases.
Most often the arrests stem from driving on suspended licenses, disorderly conduct, or failing to appear for court hearings.
“In this world there’re very, very few truly bad people, and there are very few saints,” he says.
Family and friends of those arrested come to Tallini with credit cards, jewelry or other valuables, and put a deposit down - 10 percent to 50 percent of bail - to get an accused person out of jail pending trial.
A bond is essentially a financial promise that a person will appear in court later.
If the accused person appears in court as ordered, the person putting up the cash or collateral gets most of it back (save a fee to the bondsman and his insurer); if they flee, Tallini sends bounty hunters after them.
Tallini, owner of Cash-Only Bail Bonds, gets calls nearly every week from other people who think they’d like this line of work.
“This industry’s been kind of glamorized,” by shows like “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” Tallini said.
Tallini sets two of his cell phones on the desk to turn them off, but he has more.
He has several business names and phone numbers, with each connected to these phones, which ring constantly.
He and his wife, Paula, each work this business, along with Tallini’s son in Phoenix.
So a recent trip to Holbrook with the wife involved a stop for dinner, then an arrest in Holbrook, to take in someone charged who hadn’t shown up for court.
Adding up jail staff, judges, law enforcement officers, probation officers and others, Tallini figures the economy related to crime in Flagstaff is substantial.
“It’s big business,” he said.
He looks over a criminal record of someone in jail, to answer questions about age, criminal background, and whether they might have a history of addiction.
Across the table from him, a friend, romantic partner or parent attempts to bargain to give Tallini as little collateral as they can to get their person out of jail.
When it’s a risky bond, Tallini raises the price - the amount he will charge no matter the outcome.
“You better cover yourself,” he said.
The bond for someone charged with murder can come to $1 million; in other cases it could be a few thousand.
He mainly deals with two groups: Young adults making mistakes, and adults in their 40s or 50s who have drug or alcohol addictions.
Meth is the worst of all drug addictions, he said.
“I’ll see wonderful people who had a career, and then they get into meth and they spend all their resources,” he says.
But he’s also recently bailed out people in their 70s and 80s transporting marijuana across state lines for distribution - for the income.
It used to be that relatives would bring in jewelry and valuables to cover bond costs, but that’s changed after the recession.
Often relatives have already pawned or sold these items, so they put the charges on a credit card.
“Seven years ago people had collateral. Now they have nothing,” Tallini says.
He opens a spreadsheet showing who’s called in for a court date (defendants are supposed to call in once each week and after court dates to give their whereabouts and the next court date), and who paid cash.
“When people don’t call in, that’s when I get alarmed,” he said.
Some of the people Tallini has bonded out are ordered to wear tracking devices on their ankles.
The devices track substance use and even include speakers for communication, in case their wearers attempt to cut them off.
“Although they can still run, you’re not far behind them,” Tallini said.
A geologist by training, Tallini had many jobs before seven years in this field and worked in archaeology, mining for gold, balancing the books for a local company, and trapping animals.
“You soon realize that there’s a lot of stuff you can do,” he said.
His wife went into the bond business, and he ended up there incrementally.
There are a few clients Tallini will always remember.
Sometimes there are multiple women coming to bail out the same boyfriend, or a recently beaten domestic violence victims bailing out an abusive partner, which is difficult for Tallini to see.
“You see things there that just turn your stomach,” he said.
One he won’t forget was Michael Marin, a Valley man who climbed Mt. Everest, traded on Wall Street, fell into debt on a multimillion-dollar mansion and was ultimately convicted of arson of an occupied structure (his own house, occupied by himself.)
Marin killed himself with cyanide in a Phoenix courtroom last year just after his guilty verdict was read.
Tallini views it from Marin’s perspective: Putting Marin in prison for a decade or longer was the worst thing anyone could do to a person who loved the outdoors as much as Marin did.
“He was a hell of a nice guy,” Tallini said.
Cyndy Cole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 913-8607.