What we do
He offers help at a risk and a price
By S.I. ROSENBAUM
Published July 21, 2006
ORIENT PARK - Norman Giovenco is alone in an office full of fur and teeth.
[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
BAIL BONDSMAN: Norman Giovenco.
The flickering fluorescent light glances off a bleached gator skull. A dusty fox snarls behind glass.
The trophies belong to Armando Arcos Jr., who owns this bail bond business across the street from the Orient Road Jail. Arcos likes to hunt.
Giovenco, who has his own bail bond business but works for Arcos two days a week, has also been a hunter of a sort. After all, he has been a bail bondsman for nearly 30 years.
These days, he tries to take fewer risks. He's 58, too old to be wrangling bail-jumpers.
These days he tries to find people he can help.
Giovenco wears a neat, snowy goatee. There are smile lines around his eyes, although he is slow to smile, and his nails are bitten to the quick.
He wanted to be a lawyer. Got as far as college. Then his old man got sick, and he dropped out. He worked for the Sheriff's Office and drifted into the bond business.
That was in the late 1970s.
There are things no one can teach you about this business. Things you have to learn on your own.
"You get a gut feeling about people, about situations," he says. "It gets in your blood, like."
The door opens. Three people come in: two women and a man.
Giovenco watches them approach. He has deep-set, heavy-lidded eyes. He looks like he's looking at everything from far away.
He's seen all types come looking for a bond. He knows that you can never tell who will be trustworthy from the way they dress or act.
"You got to get deeper into it," he says. "Lots of times it's not the questions you ask, it's how you feel. That doesn't come from reading a book. You get a sixth sense. A feeling in the pit of your stomach."
This particular trio is looking to bail out a co-worker.
Giovenco pulls the mug shot up on his computer.
"That's him," they say in chorus.
Giovenco quizzes them. How long has this man lived in Tampa? Does he have family?
"He's only 21," Giovenco says, almost to himself.
But he has already made his decision: Because it's a Pinellas charge and the accused hasn't lived in Tampa for long, the co-workers are going to have to come up with some serious collateral - to wit: $1,000, the same amount as the bail, plus a $100 fee.
The three look at each other.
"Would you take a boat registration?" one of them asks.
Giovenco says no. He tells them to try other bondsmen.
"Everyone works differently," he says.
He tries to be patient with people, tries to explain all their options. He might not give you a bail bond, but he'll always explain why he doesn't.
His favorite thing, he says, is when he's able to help someone who's desperate, someone who has been turned down again and again. He likes to bask in their gratitude.
"It makes me feel good," he says. "Like you accomplished something."
At his own business, he gets a lot of repeat business, the habitual criminals he has been bailing out for years.
"People got my number memorized," he says. Once, one of his regulars proudly told a judge that Giovenco was her "family bondsman."
Right now he's on the phone. "What's the charge?" he asks.
The stuffed fox watches with its glassy eyes.
S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at 661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified July 21, 2006, 09:07:37]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]