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When the phone rings at 4:30 a.m., Francisco Rodriguez knows he's going to jail. Dressing and jumping into his blue Corvette, the Hollywood Bail Bondsman usually heads west on Sunset Blvd. to the men's prison facility on Wilcox Ave. This morning, however, he's traveling to the jail in Van Nuys where female prisoners are held. Rodriguez's been told that if he doesn't get there quickly, his client will be moved to County. And County jail ain't the place you want to be at five in the morning, especially if you're a Playboy playmate.

Apparently the playmate and her partner were involved in a domestic dispute that turned ugly, and when the police arrived both the girl and her extraordinarily successful businessman boyfriend were


cuffed and carted away. "When you involve the police or dial 911, someone's going to get arrested," Rodriguez says. "But in this case, they took them both." Thanks to OJ Simpson, the price of a bond in domestic violence cases in Hollywood rose dramatically, according to Rodriguez.

If bail is set at $50,000, the bondsman guarantees that money will be there if the accused skips town or fails to appear for her court date. For his trouble, Rodriguez collects 10 percent of the bond's face value upfront. In this case, he made $5,000 before most people had breakfast.

Francisco Rodriguez, the owner of Hollywood Bail Bonds, is an attractive man with wavy black hair and a big moustache that hangs over his straight, white teeth. He wears large, diamond


studded rings, making him look like he's either won a few World Series or is a Mason, which, in fact, he is. When he speaks to you, he sounds refined and educated, and he is these things, too. A Columbia University graduate, Rodriguez fell into bail bonds when he was looking to augment his salary from his printing business. At first he was hesitant to get into the business, concerned about the type of people he assumed would require his services. Yet what he has found in the six years he's been in business is that the majority of his clientele are distinctly middle-class individuals.

This makes sense if you think about the bail system as inherently discriminating against the poor. To be considered a worthwhile bond risk, a person must be able to prove ties to his community. Ties include either holding a responsible job "and we're not talking about flipping burgers," Rodriguez says, or owning real estate. If the accused doesn't have these things, the burden shifts to his friends or family, a.k.a. his indemnitors. However, even if the person appears risk-worthy, if he or his family can't afford the bondsman's 10 percent fee, be it as little as $100, he's stuck in the slammer. In other words, the less you have, the more likely you remain a guest of the state.

It's the job of bondsmen like Rodriguez to get his client to court no later than 185 days after the trial date. And if he fails to do so he is forced to pay the balance of the accused's bail. In all the time Rodriguez has been in business, he's never forfeited money because a client failed to report. This isn't to say it's because middle class clients prove a particularly trustworthy lot. Rather, it's because the bounty hunters Rodriguez employs prove particularly adept at their job. While breaking down doors, these former Israeli and British intelligence agents are rather persuasive in convincing people to turn themselves in.

Becoming a bail bondsman requires 16 hours of classes; a set of fingerprints on file with the FBI; and either a job working for a licensed bail bondsman or a bond from surety company, which is insurance for bail bondsmen. Taking a psychology class or two probably wouldn't be a bad idea, either. When people contact Rodriguez they not only want his professional services, but generally want to tell him their life stories, too, he says. They also want his assurance that everything will be just fine.

But there's no way Rodriguez can guarantee this. All he can promise is that once he posts the bond, the person will most likely be out of jail in an hour. "I advise everyone to keep cash at home because the faster you can pay me, the faster I can get you out," he says. "Do you really want to rely on friends to have that kind of cash in the middle of the night?" And if you have to call someone to bail your sorry ass out of jail in the middle of the night, wouldn't you rather it be a Mason?


Robin Epstein is a freelance writer in New York City. She co-wrote the recent novel Shaking Her Assets.