Special Most Wanted: Catching bail jumpers

By Harve Jacobs  bio | email

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - The three men sitting around this table may look like cops, but they are South Carolina's version of bounty hunters. They round up the bail jumpers who fail to appear in court. 007 Bail Bonds owner Jeff Pumilia is leading the morning meeting. Listening closely are recovery agents Doug Malden and Gene Jackson.

Today this trio will try to capture two women who jumped bail and failed to appear in court. One of them is 24 year old Heather Benton, who is free on $15,000 bond. "She is wanted for Criminal Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature," said Pumilia. The second bail jumper is 30 year old Lemona Williams, charged with Lynching 2nd Degree, or mob violence. "We bonded her out on a $10,000 bond," Pumilia explained.

In both cases, the families of the fugitives put up some cash to get them out of jail. Pumilia has 90 days to find them or else or it will cost him a lot of cash. "If we don't bring them in by that specific period of time we have to pay the full amount of that bond," he warned.

These guys really mean business. They wear bullet proof vests when they go out to look for fugitives. But they don't use actual guns. They use tasers and non-lethal ammunition, in this case, rubber bullets. "It's not personal, It's all about business," Pumilia said.

Since time is money, they're soon on the move. First stop is  a North Charleston trailer where Heather Benton may be staying. "Dog, there's a dog in the house," Pumilia yells out. But there are no people inside the trailer, so it's time to move on. The bounty hunters go to a North Charleston home where the other bail jumper Lemona Williams may be staying. Before moving in, the recovery agents put on their gear and get ready. "You never know what you're walking into, you just never know," said Jackson. Again, no one is home. "There is a lot of disappointment in this industry as well, because we get a lot of misinformation," Pumilia said.

Then the bail bondsman gets a big break.  Pumilias team gets a tip that Heather Benton is working at a Summerville convenience store. Pumilia finds out from an employee that she indeed works the overnight shift. "If you can call her and tell her I need to talk to her, that's all," Pumilia told one of Benton's co-workers.

He knows there's no guarantee Heather will get the message. Then a couple of hours later, Pumilia's phone rings. On the line is Benton. Pumilia has a plan to reel her in. "I'd really like for you to take care of this paperwork," he tells the wanted woman. "Is there any way I can meet you?" Benton responds.

They arrange to meet in the parking lot of a North Charleston bowling alley. "From surveillance to actually apprehending a defendant, my adrenalin is always pumped," said Malden. Thirty minutes later there's a takedown and Heather is in handcuffs, and not happy about it. "All this because someone broke into my house and beat the **** out of me," she told the recovery agents. Benton also claims she didn't know she had to show up for court. "I didn't know nothing about no court. i'm not fighting with you sir."

Pumilia is pleased with the capture but says it's not the part of the job he enjoys. "This part of it unfortunately is something that we have to do and we do it because we have to do it," he explained.

These bounty hunters will continue to roundup bail jumpers because their pocketbooks depend on it.

©2009 WCSC. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.