An aspiring bail bondsman must take an 80-hour certification course and a 20-hour correspondence course, and pass a state examination to become licensed by the State of Florida. Even then he or she can't open for business until signing a contract with an insurance company, which gives the bondsman authority to post bond. The representative of the insurance company is known as a general agent.
Once he's in business and has a client, the bondsman submits a "power of attorney" (not actual cash) to the court, pledging full payment should the defendant fail to appear on the scheduled court date.
The system is supposed to work like this: A bondsman gets a call from the family or a friend of a defendant. He charges ten percent (the maximum set by law for state cases) of the value of the bail amount as his commission. He also usually takes money and/or property as collateral, within the restrictions of state law.
The bondsman must pay part of the ten percent commission to the insurance company and its general agent. The amount varies depending on the agreement, but it is usually between 20 and 30 percent of the bondsman's commission. For example on a $10,000 bond the bondsman would collect a fee of $1000. He would then pay approximately $300 to his general agent to guarantee the bond. A portion of the remaining $700 would be paid to the employee at the bond company who handled the call, went to the jail, and executed the paperwork. The employee's commission could run from $100 to $300. The rest would go to the bondsman, a profit of anywhere from $400 to $600.
Miami bail bondsman Jim Viola operates two bail-bond companies, A-Alternative Release Bail Bond Program and Estrella Bail Bonds.
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Viola is also the general agent for two Florida insurance companies, Seneca Insurance and Ranger Insurance. This allows him to collect fees from other bail-bond companies that wish to guarantee their bonds with him. He can even have his own bail-bond companies use him as a general agent, and thereby pay himself the fee he would normally spend on a different insurance company.