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Bondage & Domination

Bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman may be about to retire, but he still looks like a Hell's Angel. His hair is long and blond, and his teeth look like they've been regularly kicked out and then put back in place. His upper canines are as big as fangs, and his skin looks ruddy and sunburned. He wears a leather trench coat and cycling gloves, and he's unfailingly polite to the judges, sheriff's deputies, attorneys and criminals he encounters at Denver's City and County Building.

"From [age] 16 to 22, I broke the law," says Dog, who once pulled a hitch in a Texas prison on an accessory-to-murder charge he still insists was a bum rap. "From '79 to '98, I did not. I had to try both to know for sure."

Now Dog, who's parlayed his colorful past into a burgeoning career as a motivational speaker, has come back home to help his sister, Jolene Martinez, a bail bondsman who toils on Bail Bond Row among the melange of row houses that sit in the shadow of the Denver County Jail. Fanning out for a block north and east of the intersection of Delaware Street and 13th Avenue, this is where the friends and family members of accused criminals come to get the bail bonds that will spring their loved ones.

Martinez opened an office on the row in June and started charging a 10 percent commission on the bonds she wrote. Her neighbors charged 15. They didn't like being undercut and asked her to stop charging below them. She refused. That's when the feud started.

For months, says Martinez, her neighbors verbally harassed her about her signs. But things really got interesting when Dog returned in September. Now the fight on the row has kicked into furious, full-out farce.

"Everybody down there has tried to get along with her," insists rival bondsman Gary Glennon, the proprietor of Around the Clock Bail Bonds. "But as long as Dog is around, she's not going to make much progress. He is the problem. He's pretty good at leveling threats. Just about everyone I know he's given threats to."

This, after all, is Bail Bond Row--home to a panoply of personalities on both sides of the law. This is where, one recent day, an African exchange student busted for drugs tries to explain that in his country hashish is legal; where men just released from jail get into fights with the women who put them in and then got them out; and where bounty hunter Chapman hobnobs with a Hollywood screenwriter in the hope of immortalizing his life story on the big screen. In other words, the seriocomic paranoia on display should be taken with a measure of sympathy--and a grain of salt.

"It's a colorful industry," says John Chanin, an attorney for Martinez. "What might not fly in our law office is part and parcel here. The context is part of the business."

On one side of the war sit Chapman and Martinez. On the other sit the most prominent names in and around Bail Bond Row: Gary Glennon, Mary Ellen Pollack, Dave Widhalm Sr. and his son, Dave "D.J." Widhalm Jr., Mark Spensieri and half a dozen others.

The wild card in the battle is Alice Barmore, a former 15-percenter who switched sides midway through the dispute after she struck up a romance with Dog. Apart from those two romantics, there hasn't been much love lost on the Row.

The trouble started this past June, when Martinez rented an office on the Row at 1305 Delaware Street. Within days, she says, the Pollack family, which owned bond businesses on either side of her, accused her of stealing their walk-in clients right off their porches.

"They said I was worse than a street slut, right to my face," Martinez says. "I didn't know these people. They didn't care until I moved downtown. I didn't realize they had such a power play."

Martinez certainly doesn't look like a woman who might go to war with a block full of competitors. She has the anxious air of a high-school teacher on the first day of class, even as she discusses her enemies' tongue-in-cheek vows to toss Molotov cocktails through her windows. Recently, a mysterious photographer was seen covertly snapping pictures of her place. If it seems like she's overreacting, she says, she has her reasons. In a well-publicized case from the 1980s, Denver bondsman Paul Carpenter was convicted of criminal solicitation when he tried to hire a hitman to kill fellow bondsman George Lucero.

Attorney Chanin doesn't believe there are any hitmen waiting in the wings this time around. Neither does Denver Police detective Jim Wattles, who, at Dog's behest, has been looking into the long line of accusations and threats--even though Dog is the one who seems to keep getting in trouble. "You have to stand back and scratch your head at the pettiness," Wattles says.

 

Of course, this is the Row, so anything is possible. "You have to take a hard look at the people you're dealing with," says the detective. "People do crazy things when they can't put food on the table."

Dog Chapman is not shy about boasting of his days as a bounty hunter.
There was the time in 1988 when he went to apprehend a drug dealer who was asleep in his car. Dog crawled into the backseat and managed to get one cuff on before the guy woke up, and a ten-minute fight ensued. It happened near an elementary school, Dog says, so the kids on their way to class gathered in a circle to watch the fisticuffs. "He almost whipped me, but he finally went down," he says--much to the thrill of the kids. There was the time he bought a $30 Radio Shack megaphone, attached some flashlights to divining rods to create the illusion that he hadn't come alone, and tricked a fugitive holed up in a cabin near Colorado Springs into surrendering.

Dog has more dramatic tales to tell. He claims that he helped capture the man who killed Denver radio host Alan Berg and that he assisted the FBI in apprehending Wayne Williams, the serial killer who murdered black children in Atlanta in the early 1980s. (An FBI spokeswoman in Atlanta says no one in that office remembers him; Sergeant John Priest of the Denver Police Department says the same of his alleged involvement with the Berg case.)

In 1990, says Dog, he felt like he was on top, so he retired, retreating to the relative calm of Hawaii and beginning a career in public speaking. While in the islands, he says, he hung out with his pal Tony Robbins, the human-potential guru for whom Dog gives inspirational talks about how he went from his days in the Devil's Disciples motorcycle gang to his present role as a crusader for truth and justice. (Robbins returned the favor by giving Dog a plug in his book, Awaken the Giant Within, which heralds the bounty hunter's "legendary" ability to unravel mysteries and create a "rapport with young people.")

Chapman returned to Denver at the end of September to help his sister, and it didn't take long for him to get dragged into the feud. A week after coming home, on October 9, 1997, Dog went to a welcome-home party at Martinez's place. He parked in a space behind bondsman Jon Rourke's business, The Bail Bond House. Rourke says he encountered the former bounty hunter and his young children a few hours later behind his shop. He says he asked Dog to leave. Instead, he claims, Dog spit on him and "told me he'd kick my ass." So Rourke signed a complaint against Chapman for assault and disturbing the peace.

Dog remembers it differently. He says Rourke came up to him and two of his children and told him to "get these motherfucking riffraff the fuck out of here." It's possible, Dog says, that he inadvertently spit on Rourke in the process of telling him not to talk dirty in front of his kids. "I had no idea he was a bondsman," he says of Rourke. "I thought he was a parking lot attendant."

Chapman pleaded not guilty to assault. The matter is set for trial next month in Denver County Court.

Later in October, in response to Martinez's decision to post large signs touting her 10 percent bargain prices, her competitors put up their own 10 percent signs. But there was one difference. The signs of Pollack and company promised 10 percent "DWAC"--down with approved credit--which means they could still charge the other 5 percent at a later date.

Martinez's competitors pressured her to remove her large 10 percent signs, and after a three-hour meeting, she relented. In exchange, it was agreed, the "10 percent down with approved credit" signs would also come down.

"They're going to kill me over 10 percent?" Martinez asks. "They're vultures."

Once Martinez took down her sign, almost everyone else on the Row removed theirs. Almost. "Everyone else complied but Rourke," recalls Barmore. "He still had a 10 percent sign up. Then later he changed it to 'Bail Half-Down.'"

Soon after, Martinez moved her office again, leaving her place on Delaware and moving over to 13th. But she wasn't through fighting. She brazenly put her 10 percent sign back up. The hostilities quickly resumed.

At the end of the year, Martinez got some relief when the 15ers' self-described strategist, Barmore--the "mastermind" behind the "DWAC" campaign--switched sides. She had developed a love jones for Dog and had moved in with him. In the eyes of the 15-percenters, this made her a turncoat.

 

"Barmore and Dog are playing two sides of the fence," says Gary Glennon. "They're friends with everyone, then they run to Jolene."

"They made me change sides," Barmore responds. "I was dating Duane, and they said I was sleeping with the enemy and they no longer trusted me.

"At first I thought what both sides were doing was wrong," she continues. "But I realized Jolene was just trying to make a living. They're just trying to be greedy."

The next confrontation came on Sunday, January 14, 1998, when Martinez, Chapman and Barmore attended a meeting of the Colorado Bail Agents Association (CBAA). The organization was meeting to discuss legislation regarding bounty-hunter training and licensing that it's sponsoring through its lobbyist, Freda Poundstone.

The scene of the meeting was Poundstone's luxury home in suburban Greenwood Village. The surly tone, however, came straight from Bail Bond Row. Things got testy when Dave Hyatt, a former bondsman and vice president of an insurance company that underwrites many of the bonds written in Denver, took a seat directly behind the Martinez contingent.

"I don't want anybody sitting behind me," Dog told Hyatt.
According to Martinez, Hyatt fired back, "Say anything to me and I'll come down on you with both feet." (Hyatt says he left before the meeting even began, and he refuses to comment on what happened while he was there.)

Things got more contentious as the evening wore on, with verbal tirades coming from both sides. At one point someone called the police, and the other bondsmen tried to get Chapman thrown out. Poundstone, however, canceled the police request before any officers showed up.

"Freda came back and told everybody to shut up," Martinez says. "She went on to do the meeting. Freda started talking about the bill. It was so good to listen to her. Everyone apologized at the end."

The next day, January 15, a block meeting was held on the Row. Martinez came for a few minutes but, feeling that the odds were against her, soon split. However, she had a plan to uncover what she suspected was a plot against her: She left behind a friend, bondsman Granville Lee, to tape the meeting and report back. (Lee did not return phone calls from Westword.)

When Lee had to stop recording to turn the tape over, he was found out. Other bondsmen angrily told him to shut the machine off. He told them he had but instead kept on recording.

On the tape, the bondsmen can be heard comparing Martinez's undercutting to, well, treason.

"You know, these guys worked very hard to get 15 percent," says an outraged Pollack. "You can't take it away from them. Just like our forefathers fought a war for our freedom. For God's sakes, there was people fighting for this 15 percent for this industry. How can you turn 'em backwards like that?"

Soon after, the group gets down to specifics about how to deal with Martinez:

Pollack: "Everybody's lost it. So [Rourke] says today, 'I'm gonna do 7 1/2 percent down.'"

Dave Widhalm: "Finally, someone got fed up."
Pollack: "Got pissed off. Had it up to here. Can't blame him."
Rourke: "Least I went and told everybody."

Pollack: "And he did. He had the courtesy to tell us and get us in a tizzy. So then Red says, 'Hell, he's right next to me. I'm going down to 9 percent flat.' I said, 'Well, fuck that, I'll put 8 percent.' Red said, 'Then I'll put 8 percent.' 'Well, then, I'll put 7.' 'Well, I'll put...' I said, 'Let's just stop right there. We aren't gonna fight, either. We're gonna figure out a solution.'"

Spensieri: "I already got the solution...We all go to 10 percent and compete on her level for three months. She's gone."

Later on the tape, Spensieri lets loose. "You know everybody had the signs," he says, referring to the price-cutting war started by Martinez. "Fuck that, I ain't doing it! I'll starve alone. I ain't gonna sacrifice my ass. I'll blow that building up before I'll starve."

After the block meeting, Spensieri, Lee and another bondsmen were sent to deliver terms to Martinez: If she didn't take her signs down, the others would go down to 9 percent. Before the three emissaries left the meeting, Spensieri once again cracked wise, this time saying that he might toss a Molotov cocktail through Martinez's window.

"Everybody says a lot of different things," says Spensieri of his comments at the meeting. "I'll just keep to myself."

 

And as it turned out, Martinez had the last laugh on that day; she already had her own 9 percent signs ready. "They were just flabbergasted," she says. "It ruined their plan."

Today Martinez and her companions trumpet the various comments on the tape as proof of a price-fixing scheme. "They price-fixed--they knew it was wrong, they continued to do it," says Barmore. "They willfully sat in there and price-fixed."

"That was gossip talking," responds Glennon, who was at the meeting. "What it is, is just trying to get her to come in and go back to regular price, and she got mad."

Pollack bristles at the price-fixing allegation. "Jolene will put herself out of business," Pollack says. "No one needs to conspire.

"They are the least of our worries," she continues, referring to Martinez and Chapman. "They need not flatter themselves. We don't give a damn what they do over there."

On Saturday, January 17, the secret tape recordings continued. This time, Barmore recorded a telephone conversation she had with Mary Ellen Pollack. At the time, another block meeting was scheduled to try to work out a compromise. During the phone call, Barmore told Pollack that Martinez wanted to present some ideas at the meeting about resolving everyone's problems. But Pollack changed her mind and canceled the meeting.

"Fuck her," Pollack says on the tape. "We're done showing her any kind of fucking courtesy. The party's over, and the war is gonna be on. Fuck her. She ain't gonna make no fucking agreements with us. Fucking take the fuckin' shit down, you know--her party's over. Her fucking party is over. I've got a better plan."

"What does that mean?" Barmore asks
"I've got a better plan. I've got a better plan."
"This makes me sick to my stomach."

"Fuck her. She makes me sick to my stomach. She's out of her fucking mind. I better not see her on the fucking street, 'cause I'll fuck her. And if she thinks I give a fuck about going to jail, not even a little bit. I'll fuck her up. I'll rock her fucking world like it ain't never been rocked before."

On January 23, to cash in on the Broncos' trip to the Super Bowl, Martinez ran a special offer and posted it outside her window: Four percent on bonds, see details inside. To honor John Elway, the 4 percent applied only to defendants lucky enough to get bonds with the number seven in them.

Looking out the window of Martinez's shop that morning, Barmore saw another bondsman, Jesse Quesada, "pace up and down the street," then make a beeline for Chapman and Jolene's husband, Jerry Martinez, who were outside posting the sign. "He started shouting profanities right out of the gate," she recalls.

Police were called, and Quesada was arrested for disturbing the peace and threatening to injure a person or damage property. According to the arrest report, Quesada told Chapman and Martinez, "We're going to get all of you. We're going to kill you."

(Quesada, who didn't return calls from Westword, actually spent a few hours in jail, though he managed to bond himself out for $100. Last week he was fined $50 and ordered to stay away from Barmore and Martinez for ninety days.)

And Quesada's clash with Chapman and Martinez wasn't the last of the Super Bowl fireworks. Next, Jon Rourke emerged from his office, camera in hand, to snap pictures of the 4 percent sign, which he claims is illegal. "It's against the law to rebate, kickback, whatever," he says. (A spokeswoman at the Colorado Division of Insurance, which oversees the bond industry, says that as long as the terms of special deals are clearly advertised, they are not illegal.)

Then Barmore raced after Rourke and tried to block him from taking any more shots. "She didn't like me taking my pictures," Rourke recalls, as he watches those same pictures roll out of his laser printer. He remarks, "God, she's ugly," then adds, "She said she was gonna take the camera and shove it up my ass."

Barmore denies threatening Rourke. "If I'm gonna swing, I'm gonna hit you," she says. "I'm not one to make idle threats."

But Rourke called the cops, and Barmore, too, wound up being charged with threatening to injure a person. Her arraignment is set for April 1.

Things finally came to a head on February 9, the night of the CBAA's monthly meeting. At the gathering, held at Gary Glennon's office, the board, made up of Martinez's competitors, voted to kick Martinez, Barmore and Chapman out for Dog and Barmore's alleged threats and hostility.

 

"They got there with a horrible attitude," says Pollack of her foes. "Before the meeting was called to order, they were making complaints." When the association decided to oust them as members, she says, the trio made threats and even hit a couple of people.

Jack Tanksley, a friend of Martinez's who also serves as the regional representative for the nonprofit Professional Bail Agents of the United States, says the threats came from Pollack's side. "There were big guys there, and I don't know if they were muscle or what," he says, "but they looked like they were ready for a fight."

But Glennon says Martinez and Chapman started it. "The first thing out of [Dog's] mouth was an argument with Dave Widhalm," he says. "Jolene threatened Mary Ellen. Then Mary Ellen fired off a few words." (Widhalm declined to comment for this story.)

Some shoving followed, Glennon recalls, and the 10-percenters were finally pushed out the front door: "That's where it started, and that's where it ended."

Outside, Martinez and Chapman claim, they were maced. Once again, police officers were called to the scene. This time they didn't issue any tickets.

"They wanted to shoot us, not just kick us out," Martinez says of the altercation. What the 15ers did instead was go to court and ask for temporary restraining orders against Martinez and Chapman. In their request filed with the court, they referred to the meeting at Glennon's shop in this way: "The association voted to expel Jolene Martinez, Duane Chapman and Alice Barmore for prior threats of bodily harm and murder at which time they threatened and began assaulting association members."

Even worse, association members claimed in the request for the restraining orders, was the January 14 meeting at Freda Poundstone's house. At that meeting, they told the court, Martinez and company "threatened bodily injury to members of CBAA. The above named have continued to threaten bodily harm and to kill members of CBAA."

The initial request to prohibit Martinez and company from setting foot in the county jail or the courthouse--which, from a bail bondsman's point of view, would be sort of like barring a teacher from entering a classroom--was rejected. But the court did prohibit Martinez and the others from coming within 100 yards of four bond houses on the 1300 block of Delaware and from coming within 100 yards of no less than eighteen named individuals.

On February 27, attorney Chanin filed a counterclaim arguing that Pollack and company had the "ulterior purpose and motive...to harass and intimidate Martinez."

On Thursday, March 5, a settlement was reached, and the restraining orders against Jolene and Jerry Martinez, Duane Chapman and Alice Barmore were dismissed. Both sides claimed victory. The celebration was shortlived. Moments after leaving the courtroom, the foursome ran into Dave Widhalm Jr., a 22-year-old complete with red mohawk and black leather jacket.

The foursome swear they said nothing to Widhalm as he passed them on the way out. D.J. recalls otherwise. "They said 'There's that punk's kid,'" he says. "One of 'em said, 'Let's kick his ass.' Another said, 'We need to kick his ass.'" If Barmore hadn't pulled Chapman back, he adds, he doesn't know what would have happened.

Police technician Randall Smith, who issued Chapman and Jerry Martinez tickets for threatening to injure a person or damage property, says security guards heard loud voices but no threats, so it's Widhalm's word against those of the others. The alleged municipal-ordinance violations were added to the growing list of cases now crowding the legal system as a result of the Battle of Bail Bond Row.

"When a person wants to make a complaint, unless we have some reason to negate it, we have to adjudicate it through the courts," says Officer Smith. A hearing in the case is scheduled for April 16.

The Row has been quiet of late. Martinez is still nervous about the unidentified photographer who's been snapping pictures of her office, but other than that, things seem to have calmed down. Dog is spending most of his time these days entertaining a writer who says he wants to write a screenplay about his life.

Everyone on the Row speaks of putting things behind them. They say they don't care about the competition. But Martinez's friend Tanksley figures the tension will continue for a while. "It'll end," he says. "They'll get enough bad publicity, and they'll cut their own throat.


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