London Sunday Times
Feb 15, 1998
Cell mate;Interview;Josh Herman
When Hollywood’s finest get into trouble, they call Josh Herman, bondsman to the stars. But woe betide those who skip bail, as CHRIS GOODWIN reports. Josh Herman is not the kind of guy to make moral judgments about his Hollywood clients – he wouldn’t have much work if he did – but there is one thing he stipulates before he’ll do business with anyone: they must be in the slammer. Not on some two-bit drink- driving charge – Herman won’t even get out of bed for that – but for murder, assault with a deadly weapon, rape or a serious drugs charge, especially if they’re a celebrity. Then Herman will drop whatever he’s doing, wherever he happens to be. Josh Herman is bail bondsman to the stars.
Here’s the deal. You’re a well-known movie star and you’ve just been caught on Santa Monica Boulevard with a gun, 2oz of Bolivian marching powder and a transvestite hooker. After the cops charge you, the court agrees to release you on bail of, say, $100,000. Perhaps you just don’t have that kind of cash lying around at home on a wet Saturday night in February. Perhaps you don’t feel comfortable asking the wife to come and bail you out when it’s the nanny’s night off. So you call Josh Herman a beefy 26-year-old who packs a .40-calibre Glock handgun, and talks like the dialogue coach on a Quentin Tarantino movie.
If he agrees to be your bail bondsman, Herman stumps up 10% of that $100,000 bail to the court on your behalf and, before you can say “O J Simpson”, you’re a free man. There are just two catches: Herman charges you 10% of whatever he puts up and, if you’re dumb enough to leave town or fail to turn up for your court appearance, he forfeits the whole $100,000. Which could mean trouble for you. “If you skip on me I will do every f***ing thing I can to find you,” says
Herman quietly. “You are not going to get away from me. That’s just the reality. I am going to find you and I am going to drag your ass back to jail.” If the “skip” is someone Herman knows, he goes after them himself. “They’re gonna see me at the door with handcuffs, that’s for sure,” he says. “It’s a little personal to me.” If he doesn’t know the person, Herman sends his muscle, Bubba. “Bubba is huge,” says Herman, “and mean-looking. If I ask him to do something for me he’ll do it.”
These days, 70% of Herman’s work involves celebrities. “If we bail out someone famous,” says Herman, “it’s a done deal, it’s easy. Where they gonna go? You tell me.” He’s right. Not only are celebrities just too recognisable to skip, but they’re worth far too much money to their record companies, studios, lawyers and agents to be allowed to. Herman’s confidentiality agreements prevent him from naming most of his clients, who include some of Hollywood’s best- known figures, but he will hint. “I’ve dealt with the biggest actor in Hollywood, I mean the biggest, and nobody knows he went to jail,” Herman discloses.
“It was kept out of the papers. When I got to the jail, he was sitting there with a coat over his head. Even my file doesn’t have his real name on it.” Herman has a special fondness for rap stars. You can understand why. They are great business for him. His toll-free number, 1-800-7GET-ME-OUT, is on the cell-phone speed dial of every rap artist in Los Angeles. He is virtually the in-house bail bondsman for Death Row records, the leading rap label, and counts the late Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and former Death Row chairman Suge Knight not just as clients, but as friends. Despite their reputations, they are, he insists, good people. What of Shakur, who served time for rape and gun possession, and died in a hail of bullets in Las Vegas in 1996? “As friendly as could be.” And Knight, now serving eight years for assault with a baseball bat? “Suge never does anything but nice things for me, my family and a million other families out there, including giving away turkeys on Thanksgiving.” But then Herman was brought up with a soft spot for those who prefer to live by their own rather than society’s rules.
It started with his grandmother, Flo, who began the family’s bail-bond business in the 1940s, getting mafia men out of jail. “She was 5ft tall, weighed 70lb, was wafer thin, and smoked like a chimney,” Herman remembers fondly. “And she was mean.” Every Friday night Flo would have a card game. “She’d have cat burglars and armed robbers playing with her,” he recalls. “I’d be sitting there watching TV and the biggest fence in LA would be there, mafia guys, just about everybody. It was a different time. People were friendly, they were happy, and at night they would go out and rob people. That’s just the way it was.”
During the 1960s Herman’s father became a bondsman too, doing a lot of business with the marijuana cartels then operating in California, the Black Panthers, and some rock and soul stars, including Ike Turner. So it was only natural that Herman went into the business when he was 19. On his first day he had to pick up a heroin dealer in east LA. Soon after that his dad sent him off to bail out rapper Eazy-E, which is how he got into the celebrity game. “You learn how to determine what type of person somebody is in 30 seconds on the phone,” he says. “I’m not saying that there are people out there who are not strange or dangerous, but I make my own choices.”
Following the release of Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, in which Robert Forster plays a bail bondsman, Hollywood is now sniffing round him to see if his life story could make a movie. Herman, however, remains steadfastly unimpressed by their approaches. “You might think I deal with some slimy people in my business,” he says, “but I’ll tell you this: these Hollywood people are a whole lot worse than the guys I deal with. A whole lot worse.”