Imagine a universe in which Donald Trump’s arrest on multiple criminal charges in Atlanta does not involve his casually flying into the state Thursday and navigating the legal process from within a cocoon of attorneys. Imagine, instead, that the former president is facing those charges and his $200,000 bond in the same way as might a less well-known individual accused by a Fulton County grand jury.
Perhaps he or his family would place a call to Red Eye Bail Bonds, an Atlanta-based company that touts its “16 years of industry experience” on its website. Perhaps Trump or his wife, Melania, would find themselves on the phone with the same Red Eye manager who answered the phone when I called Wednesday afternoon, and perhaps they might learn from him the same details about the process of avoiding pretrial detention that I learned.
The manager with whom I spoke was understandably wary about the conversation. He described himself as a private person in general and declined to let me record the call (standard practice to facilitate transcribing quotes). After all, this was his opining on the legal challenges of the past and potential future most powerful man in the free world, so when he declined to share his name, I didn’t force the issue.
But he did explain how such a scenario would usually work. For example, it was unusual (though not unheard of) for someone to walk in his door seeking to secure someone’s release, one of several deviations from what Quentin Tarantino presented in the film “Jackie Brown.” (That movie was set in Los Angeles, a jurisdiction where Trump has not, to this point, been indicted.) It was likely, however, that the person who contacted Red Eye would already be familiar with what to expect.
“A good portion of the calls you receive are habitual offenders,” the manager told me. He estimated that a quarter to a third of those who sought Red Eye’s services were first-time offenders. The rest were people who were accused of assault or battery, for example, and, he said, “continue to commit the same crimes.” (He did not insist upon granting his clients the presumption of innocence, presumably because of that history.)
The first step from Red Eye’s perspective is to assess how likely a potential client might be to skip bail. The firm has access to public records that detail an arrestee’s criminal history, the circumstances in which past court appearances have unfolded. Were they jailed? Have they ever had a bench warrant issued for their arrest? These factor into the calculus of whether the client is worth Red Eye’s involvement at all, and if so how much of the bond would need to be provided for the firm to do so.
In general, the manager said, Red Eye requires that a client provide 10 percent of the total bond. If the person under arrest is deemed to be a higher risk, that percentage increases. If the risk is higher, the company also will do more on the front end to establish whether resources exist to recoup the full value of the bond. Does the client own a house? Things like this.
After all, while Red Eye requires only 10 percent, the county requires the whole thing. That doesn’t mean that the firm has to put up $200,000 in cash. The whole point of involving a bondsman, after all, is that the firm serves as a proxy of trust on behalf of clients. There is a specialized power of attorney that is granted the firm, and when Red Eye decides to act as a guarantor for a client, a sum reflecting the total bond is frozen with the firm’s insurer.
I asked whether Trump’s $200,000 was unusually high. The manager thought about it for a moment before determining that it was in the “top tier” of what he usually sees. The midrange is about $100,000 or $110,000, he told me, but in cases involving more serious charges, costs could run higher.
He was also not fazed by the unique circumstances of Trump’s situation. He often has clients who are facing more than one indictment; that shows up in the initial analysis of the case and factors into the consideration of the arrestee as a flight risk. It is also not unusual for one party to live out of state, as Trump does. (He used the example of a college kid getting arrested and his parents posting bond remotely.) This, too, would on other occasions give him pause.
But he wasn’t really worried about Trump.
“I wouldn’t think he’s just outright not going to show up in court,” he said. This wasn’t just about Trump; in other “high-end cases like that, most likely or not the families are not going anywhere.” (I didn’t mention Trump’s recent social media post about moving to Russia.)
If Trump did fail to make his court appearance, the court would need to decide whether he had violated the terms of his bond. (This usually depends largely on intent. Accidentally missing a date or having a good excuse might earn you some leniency.) If so, and if he had been backed by Red Eye, the firm would suddenly be on the hook for the cost of the bond. And its relationship to the client would change: Now, Red Eye’s staff would try to find Trump and bring him in. If they do, the firm would be relieved of the financial obligation (and of trying to, say, take possession of Trump’s jet to sell at auction).
The manager did offer some potential benefits for Trump, should he be in the market for a bail bondsman. Red Eye’s role is not just to put up the money but, for obviously self-serving reasons, to ensure that the client and the person who had been arrested understood the process and the timing of what’s happening with their case. There’s an online tool that can be used to track what’s going on, making it easier to not “accidentally” miss your court date.
Fundamentally, he said, the relationship is “a matter of trust” between his firm and the client. And, I would note, if you can’t trust Donald Trump, whom can you trust?