Bond Bombshell

Debra Fosterís used to rounding up fugitives. Now sheís firing away at Montgomery County.

While Foster obviously isn't a Wharton School of Business grad, she excels at the people skills. When she gets a call from an inmate waiting not so patiently to make bond, she combines a coo and a drawl to assuage him: "I just called them, Anthony. They don't have it in the computer yet, baby."

She describes one set of calls that morning, a guy hoping to get out on a $10,000 bond after his arrest for failure to appear in court. "He called and gave me his boss's number, so I call the boss, Tyrell, and Tyrell says, 'Yeah, yeah, where's my truck?' I had him on [one] phone, him on [another], and I said, 'Darryl, Tyrell wants to know where the truck is.' 'Well, the truck's over in Magnolia.' 'Okay, are his tools in there?' 'Yeah, his tools are in there.' 'You gonna help him get out?' 'Yeah, I'm gonna help him.' 'Okay, he's gonna help you.' Thunk," she says, pretending to hang up the phones. "You know, that's pretty easy money for a thousand bucks."

Foster has the prime location for a bail bond business: 
across the street from the jail.
Daniel Kramer
Foster has the prime location for a bail bond business: across the street from the jail.
Sheriff Guy Williams on a promotional card
Daniel Kramer
Sheriff Guy Williams on a promotional card

She's not concerned about a flight risk, because she'll have the boss co-sign. But she's used to making snap judgments on the phone over who's worth taking on. "Now, if I called his boss and his boss said, 'Hell, no -- he owes me money,' then click. I wouldn't bond him."

When she guesses wrong and someone does jump bond, she usually doesn't go after them herself. Her critics say she uses her brother -- or her son, who wears a uniform as a part-time deputy constable under his uncle -- but she says all the constables help.

"And there's a lot of trickery, too," she says. "If they don't come in and you find out it's a girl and you know where she lives or something, you can call and say, 'My name's Rita, with Roses Etc. You just won two dozen roses; can I deliver them?' You take a cop with you."

There's a lot of repeat business -- perhaps up to 75 percent of her customers have been bonded by her before, she says. She points to a woman headed toward her door. "I've bonded her, her husband, her husband again -- and again -- and now her son twice," she says.

She enjoys the work, so it hurt when she couldn't practice for two months in late 2001. Because of a ten-year-old check for $34.

She had put in an application with the county's bail bond board to renew her license. Board president David Bluestein, a county prosecutor, says he discovered the class C misdemeanor of theft by check while he was reviewing Foster's records. (Foster claims a rival company tipped him to it.)

The conviction was soon found to be invalid -- a jury waiver had not been signed as required -- but it took two months to get it straightened out. (Foster blames her second ex-husband, who she says redirected all their mail to a post office box she didn't know about. She made good on the check in 1994, she says.)

Another member of the board, County Court at Law Judge Mason Martin, said he believes Foster was treated unfairly. Her attorney was notified about the check charge the day before the hearing, which was also right before he was going into surgery.

Bluestein rejected a request to conditionally renew the license, a procedure that had previously been done with bail companies such as Daisy Bail Bonds.

Daisy Real's company had been conditionally approved only because the county had failed to do a required inspection of the offices, Bluestein said. "We were not going to penalize her for the inaction of the [district attorney's] office," he said in Hittner's court. As with all other county employees who testified, he said he knew of no plot or efforts to get Foster or to boost other companies.

Sheriff Williams also testified he knew of no plot, and that Foster had never complained to him about anything. He said he launched an investigation into her claims in January -- seven months after the second suit was filed -- and found nothing wrong. He'd welcome an FBI investigation if that would allay her concerns.

The first two days of the hearing, when she knew she was going to be on the stand, Foster might not have been recognizable to those who see her every day. Her hair was pulled back in a tight, schoolmarmish bun and she wore a dark blue mid-calf dress. She stayed in dark colors the third day, but the skirt hem went higher and so did the hair, freed at last from its sedate confinement.

That third day she listened to two very different descriptions of herself. "The county doesn't have a rich mother," Laechelin told Hittner. "It has a system in place to run the jail, and just because Debra Foster doesn't like it does not mean it's wrong…She's got it better than anyone in the county, with a brother in office to run interference for her, send information to her. She doesn't want equal treatment, she wants to run ahead of everyone."

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