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Real life 'Bounty Hunter' and 'Top Gun' pilot more low-key than film, TV counterparts

Thursday, September 6, 2007


There's only one "Dog, the Bounty Hunter," and he doesn't live in Marshall.

Mike Thomas, who runs his own local bail bonding company, laughs when he's compared to Duane Chapman, the man behind the Dog.

"He's playing a character. The hair and the tough-guy outfit are just part of that character," said Thomas.

The real world of a bail bondsman is a long way from the tropical paradise of the popular TV show. For one thing, Thomas pointed out, "I can deal with most failures to show up in court with one phone call. Ninety percent of the time, that's all it takes."

He doesn't kick in many doors, either. In the 11 years he's been in the business, that's only happened four or five times. Thomas emphasized he's "not a cowboy," and that he tries to be "as low key as possible."

Remaining low key also means that he doesn't work with methamphetamine addicts going through the court system unless he absolutely can't avoid it.

"They're crazy," he said, "You can depend on them not to show up for court," and they're often difficult to locate.

And he's not in the habit of throwing good money after bad, either. If you skip out on bail once, don't look to him for more help later.

Thomas deals with criminals "just like police do," with the ability to apprehend criminals in all states and by any legal means. They still must "knock and ID," themselves, as police officers do.

Thomas doesn't think recent changes in Missouri law, which have removed the "duty to retreat" previously imposed on homeowners faced with an intruder, will have much effect on him or other bond agents. Since they have a legal right to perform their jobs, they cannot be regarded as illegal intruders.

Thomas' background in law enforcement has been very helpful to him as a bail bond agent. He was hired as a police officer in the Marshall Police Department by Henry Huff shortly before his 21st birthday.

After a few years, during which time he completed a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, he joined the Navy and stayed on active duty for seven years before returning to Marshall.

In his Navy years, Thomas was a pilot, and not just an ordinary pilot. He flew jet fighters onto the decks of aircraft carriers.

In the opening sequence of the theatrical version of the Tom Cruise film, "Top Gun," it's Thomas who piloted the plane. He said he didn't meet Cruise during the two weeks the star was aboard the carrier.

He jokingly says, "As fighter pilots, most of us thought we were 'too cool' to be bothered to meet a movie star" pretending to be one of them.

He briefly was a pilot for Kays Engineering when he returned to Marshall.

In his 11 years in the business, requirements to be a bond agent have been stiffened, now requiring prospective agents to have a minimum of 24 hours of training before a license can be issued.

Thomas has put together a three-day course that he teaches throughout the state. Through his Thomas Training Institute, he provides classes on the history and laws of bail bonding, basic bond writing and basic surety recovery.

Thomas expects additional training may be legislated in future and says he's ready to provide it when it's needed.

There are occasional drawbacks to bail bonding -- late nights and a highly-variable income -- but Thomas enjoys his work.

He believes his services "level the playing field" between those able to bail themselves out of jail and those unable to come up with the necessary funds.

And, he pointed out, law enforcement officers would be spending a lot more time finding bail jumpers than solving crimes without his services.

Contact Kathy Fairchild at





For immediate release: Dec 22, 2005

Complaint filed against bail bond agent accused of violating Missouri laws

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. – The Missouri Department of Insurance seeks to discipline the license of bail bond agent Virgil Lee Jackson, O’Fallon, Mo.  Filed with the Administrative Hearing Commission, the complaint requests the authority to suspend or revoke Jackson’s bail bond license.


In 1984, Jackson was convicted of 1st degree robbery charges.  Under Missouri law, a convicted felon is not allowed to carry a concealed weapon, but in October of this year Jackson unlawfully possessed a concealed firearm. While possessing this weapon, it also was reported that he was conspiring with another person to commit the murder of a fellow bond agent. 


Both the possession of the concealed weapon and the alleged conspiracy prompted action from the director of the Department of Insurance.  Under current insurance law, the director has authority to seek discipline of bail bond agent licenses if agents have violated other state laws.


“The actions that gave rise to Jackson’s arrest in October warrant immediate discipline from the department,” Director Finke said.  “The department is doing its part to clean-up the bail bond business.”


This is not the first time the department has taken action against Jackson this year.  In September, the department refused to issue Jackson a general bail bond agent license after he submitted documents to courts for the purpose of acting as a surety under the name of a surety company that did not hold a certificate of authority to do business in the state.


About the Missouri Department of Insurance

The Missouri Department of Insurance is charged with the responsibility of consumer protection in the regulation of the insurance industry in Missouri.  This includes financial examinations into the financial condition of insurance companies so that they are able to cover claims, market regulation examinations into the conduct of the insurance companies in their dealings with customers, licensing of qualified insurance producers, and a Consumer Affairs division that works to assist consumers with insurance-related complaints, and investigates insurance fraud.  Agents numbering over 90,000 maintain licensure with the Department to transact insurance business in the state of Missouri.  Each year, customer service representatives with the Department field tens of thousands of phone calls from consumers, providing assistance to Missouri residents who have questions/concerns regarding various aspects relating to insurance.  For more information on services provided by the Missouri Department of Insurance, visit the Department’s website at


For further information, contact: Matt Barton at (573) 526-4845.




Felon had role in crafting bail law
Sunday, Nov. 13 2005

Nearly a decade ago, Virgil L. Jackson was an ex-convict working in mobile home
sales off Interstate 70 in St. Charles County when he met Jack Allison.

Then Allison started a bail bond business, and Jackson, who goes by the name
Lee, went to work for it as a bail bond agent. Allison's outfit became one of
the biggest bail bond companies in Missouri. The two men also launched another
bond company, hired a lobbyist, made contributions to a lawmaker and shaped
bills in the state Legislature.

Last year, the two men helped draft a bill that broadly revised the laws on the
licensing and powers of bondsmen, affirming their authority to go on private
property and detain fugitives. It passed, and Gov. Matt Blunt signed it.

The new law also had at least one remarkable feature: It appeared to undermine
a Missouri Supreme Court rule that bans felons from working as bond company

The law permits the state to revoke a bondsman's license for a felony
conviction, but only if that conviction took place within 15 years of the
license's being issued. That may have put Jackson's license out of reach of
regulators. Public records date his most recent known felony - for first-degree
robbery - to 1984, or 20 years before the law passed.

Late last month, however, Jackson's path in the bail bond industry turned from
a dramatic rise to a precipitous fall. Jackson, 65, of O'Fallon, Mo., was named
Oct. 25 on a federal weapons charge that accuses him of plotting the murder of
another bail bondsman.

Days after Jackson's arrest, Allison, who is president of the Missouri
Professional Bail Bond Association, called a meeting of the group's District
One - about 20 bondsmen in the St. Louis area. They unanimously voted to remove
Jackson from his post on its board of directors, Allison said. Jackson's
picture was quickly taken off the group's Web site.

"We don't need that type of people in this business," said Allison, a resident
of Mexico, in Audrain County.

Allison, who ran unsuccessfully for Audrain County sheriff in 2000, said
Jackson revealed the fact that he had a felony conviction when they first went
into business together. At the time, Jackson, who would have been about 55
years old, was working in mobile home sales, Allison said.

"He told me it was a burglary," Allison said. "I was assuming it was way back,
like when he was 17 or 18 years old."

After Jackson's arrest, the Missouri Department of Insurance confirmed that it
permits felons to obtain licenses as bail bond agents. Since then, however, the
agency's director, Dale Finke, has said that the department will no longer do
so and that it will seek to remove the licenses of felons.

So far, however, the department has taken no action against Jackson's bond
agent license. Doug Ommen, the department's deputy director, said the 15-year
provision was "certainly a factor" the agency was considering as it decided
whether to seek to strip Jackson of his license.

Allison said that although Jackson's convictions were a problem, some felons
should be permitted to work in the industry, particularly if their felonies
were non-violent, such as possession of marijuana, while they were teenagers.

"A lot of things happen to kids, and people grow up," he said.

At least one other agent working for Allison, Donald E. Christian of
Wentzville, has a felony conviction. Christian, 29, pleaded guilty in 1998 of
possessing cocaine and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and placed on probation.

Jackson's criminal record is far longer, as U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Ann
Medler revealed Oct. 28 when she denied Jackson's request for release on bond.
She wrote that Jackson had 12 felony convictions, including burglary, unlawful
use of a weapon and conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery. In addition,
Jackson has been arrested nine times "for extremely serious and many violent
crimes," though he has not been convicted in those cases, Medler wrote.

On Oct. 24, Jackson left a loaded .38-caliber revolver along a St. Charles
County roadside for a person he expected to use it to kill another bail
bondsman, federal authorities charged. He was arrested later that day. Jackson
was angry at the intended victim for making allegations of fraud in another
company that Jackson formed, officials said.

The controversy over felons' acting as bail bondsmen stems in part from their
unusual role in the justice system, which blends private insurance with law
enforcement. The state has nearly 850 licensed bail bondsmen. For a fee, a
bondsman posts the money that permits a criminal defendant to be released from
jail pending trial. That money is forfeited if the defendant fails to appear.

Many bail bond agents work for general bail bond agents, people who have the
backing of an insurance company or other business ensuring payment of a bond.
Currently, the state has 134 people and corporations licensed as general bail
bond agents. The state has long held that felons cannot be general agents.

In fact, the state had denied one of Jackson's companies a general bail bond
agent license on Sept. 23, citing his felony convictions.

In recent years, concern arose over improper conduct by bond agents and by
bounty hunters, people hired to retrieve customers who flee. In 2002, a man
from Kansas City died of strangulation when a bondsman attempted to arrest him.
The bondsman pleaded guilty of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to a
year in prison.

In 2003, state Rep. Craig Bland, D-Kansas City, introduced a bill that was
aimed at fighting what he called "questionable practices" by bondsmen. "People
felt they had more authority than police officers in Kansas City in some
instances," Bland said.

The bill would have set minimum education requirements, banned bondsmen and
bounty hunters from being armed and required them to be accompanied by police
on "fugitive recovery" operations.

Allison and Jackson, among others in the industry, had become active in
legislative matters. Each hired lobbyist Steven Carroll, a former state
representative, to represent him.

With some bondsmen opposed to Bland's bill, it died in committee, Bland said.

By 2004, Allison had taken over as president of the Missouri Professional Bail
Bond Association, and Jackson had taken a seat on its board of directors. The
group also hired Carroll.

Together, they developed a bill sponsored by state Rep. Bob Behnen,
R-Kirksville, the chairman of the House's committee on professional licensing.
It required licensing of bounty hunters, high school diplomas and 24 hours of
basic training.

But the bill did not require police presence on fugitive recoveries, nor did it
ban the use of weapons. It also gave agents and bounty hunters the power to
detain a person for up to three days for travel from another state and gave
them authority to enter private property to apprehend a fugitive.

Behnen's bill also included a provision that the state could revoke a bail bond
license of someone who is convicted of a felony "within the past 15 years ...
prior to issuance of license."

Lee Jackson's wife, Gloria Jackson, summarized the events this way: "We got
that law passed. They can't hold it against you after 15 years."

She added: "They all thought that was a good idea, not just Lee."

The provision seemed to conflict with a long-standing state Supreme Court rule,
which states that any person employed as an agent of a bond company must comply
with requirements for general agents - including the provision banning felons.

Behnen said the Office of State Courts Administrator and the insurance
department each sent a representative to review drafts of the bill, and no one
voiced objections.

"Nobody seemed to have a problem with it," said Behnen, who received campaign
contributions of $1,300 in 2004 and this year from Allison, the association and
someone at Jackson's business address.

Behnen acknowledged that the 15-year provision seemed to have been crafted to
help someone. "My guess is that it was probably drawn for a particular
individual," he said.

Yet he also said he had no idea who that individual might be and said he had no
recollection of Jackson's involvement with the bill.

Allison and Carroll said that, in the wake of the adverse publicity about
Jackson, the association planned to seek passage of a law that would ban people
with convictions for felonies considered violent - including robbery - from
being licensed as bond agents.

"We just feel like we need to send a strong message," Carroll said.

But Mariano Favazza, clerk of St. Louis Circuit Court, said he believed no
felons - violent or otherwise - should be allowed to work as bond agents.

"There must be enough non-felons out there wanting to be bondsmen that we don't
need to lower the standards," he said. 314-621-5804


Regulations are uneven on permit to be bail bond agent
By Peter Shinkle

Regulations are uneven on permit to be bail bond agent

A patchwork of regulation has permitted convicted felons to work as bail bond agents in Missouri, though just how many is unclear. The issue surfaced last week after a St. Charles County bondsman, who had a history of felony convictions for robbery and other crimes, was arrested on an illegal weapon charge that accused him of plotting to kill another bondsman.

One bond agent, Angela Park of Rolla, said Friday that she has long opposed permitting felons to work in the field. "I don't think that criminals should be in charge of other criminals. It's a position of trust and power," she said.

Others in the industry have argued for the opposite position in the Legislature and in meetings with state regulators, she said.
The state Department of Insurance acknowledged after the charges last week that it permits felons to obtain licenses to work as bail bond agents, despite a Missouri Supreme Court rule that says felons cannot be agents of bond companies. The department says its lawyers stand behind the practice regardless.

Bond agents typically charge a fee to post a bond and bail a customer out of jail. If the accused person does not appear in court, the bond agent's company must pay the court the full amount.

Policies on bond agents vary from courthouse to courthouse. St. Louis County and St. Charles County do not have rules that bar felons, while the city of St. Louis does.

The bondsman arrested last Monday, Virgil L. Jackson, has a state license as a bond agent and is authorized to write bonds in St. Charles County.

Keith Morgan, bonding supervisor in the St. Louis County Justice Center, a division of the sheriff's department, said county officials do not check to see if bond agents are felons. Instead, they have relied upon the Department of Insurance's licensing decisions, he said.

"The way we look at it, if the state gives these guys licenses, then they must be OK," Morgan said. "We assume the state has done its job in terms of checking their background."

Morgan said the Justice Center approved Jackson to write bonds as the general agent of a company he formed, Missouri National Surety, in January of this year. After the state Department of Insurance told him that Jackson was not properly licensed, the county blocked the company from posting bonds.

St. Charles County Circuit Court Clerk Judy Zerr said her office does not check whether bondsmen are felons. "We just go with what we get from the Department of Insurance," she said. "I guess you assume that if someone has a license to do something it's OK for them to do it."

St. Louis Circuit Court Clerk Mariano Favazza said the city's circuit court demands that every bail agent seeking permission to post a bond there first present a criminal record history.

If the applicant has a felony, no approval is given, Favazza said.

Favazza said the court's procedures are based on Missouri Supreme Court rules, and he was shocked to learn of the insurance department's policies. "I was surprised that they have licensed felons as bondsmen because we won't allow them the right in this circuit, and I guess that means I need to be even more careful. Just because someone shows up with a license, I can't assume they don't have a felony conviction," he said.

As for the other courts, he said, "I thought everybody did a record check."

Missouri currently has 847 licensed bail bond agents, according to Matt Barton, spokesman for the insurance department. In addition, 137 people or companies are licensed as general bond agents, entities that have proven financial backing that consists either of their own property or an agreement with an insurance company. Typically, bond agents work for general bond agents.

Barton said the state prevents felons from obtaining licenses as general bond agents, but not bond agents. As for how many of the 847 bond agents are felons, he said, he simply has no records.

It can be a lucrative business, Favazza said. Bond fees paid to bonding companies have been estimated as high as $200,000 for just one of the 18 divisions that handle criminal cases in St. Louis Circuit Court.

Competition among bondsmen may have something to do with the charges against Jackson. Federal agents contend that Jackson blamed another bondsman, Jerry Cox, for telling authorities that the "surety portion" of Jackson's business was fraudulent, and this had caused him to be unable to use his Missouri National company to write bonds in St. Louis County and St. Charles County.

Gloria Jackson, Virgil L. Jackson's wife, claimed Cox was angry at her husband because Jackson was so good at the business that he was taking customers away. Cox could not be reached for comment.

Prosecutors contend that Jackson arranged for a federal informant to obtain a revolver as part of a conspiracy to shoot Cox. Jackson pleaded not guilty Friday to a charge of being a felon in possession of a weapon. 314-621-5804

St. Charles bail bondsman accused in murder-for-hire plot
Associated Press

ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) -- A St. Charles bail bondsman faces federal charges in an alleged murder-for-hire plot, according to a federal complaint released Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney's office in St. Louis.

Virgil Jackson was arrested Monday for trying to hire a hitman to kill Gerald Cox, a rival in the bail business and a former state representative, the complaint alleged.

Jackson is a convicted felon who allegedly provided a gun and bullets to an undercover federal agent. According to the complaint, Jackson met with an undercover federal agent posing as a hitman, offered instructions on how to kill Cox, and left a gun for him hidden behind a convenience store.

Jackson was in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.






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