By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
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By Jake Rossen
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"He put his arm over my shoulder and said, 'Not a problem,'" says Atkins. "The sonofabitch took the check to the bank and deposited it the next day."
Ice's account sounds like a script for an entirely different movie.
He says the $2,265.29 bad check came by mail and was the only check proffered.
"I wish I had gotten a check for $12,000," Ice chuckles.
He says he's still missing eighteen or nineteen powers of attorney, the documents that must be attached when a bond is posted. He signed out hundreds of these powers, carefully numbered and recorded, to Atkins' office. The agents were to keep them in inventory and attach them to bonds as needed, then report the bonds and split the fees.
Ice says that if the powers were used, he never saw the fees.
"It's my opinion that he doesn't know whether he used them himself," he says. "We terminated him for failure to report because we were not able to get paid."
Atkins wrote to Missouri Department of Insurance investigator Bob Volkmer, saying, "I demanded of Ice that I be dismissed from my charge as their supervising agent.... How ironic that a couple days later I received a whole lot of letters of suspension. Over the fax, regular mail, registered mail, certified mail, by air and maybe even by sea. My question to Ice was, 'Did you suspend the real criminals?'"
To this day, Atkins maintains, "Cody got every report he was ever due."
Atkins' phone rings.
"You're out?" he says. "You got some money for me? I could use it."
Two minutes later, the phone rings again: a guy calling from prison.
Atkins speaks kindly to him, then hangs up and turns melancholy.
"When I first began to walk the halls of justice -- I like to use that term -- and encountered a few old-time bondsmen, they said, 'You are writing for Cody Ice? You are a damn fool.'"
According to Ice, it was Atkins' clients who felt like damn fools.
"We got numerous calls," says Ice. "I don't blame them for being quite irate. It's sad, and I don't like to use the word 'comical,' but how he's gotten by with this -- you wonder who's watching the store."
After Atkins left C&M, he floated.
"I was basically a clearinghouse," he says. "I'd tell [prospective clients], 'Let me call you right back -- I'll see what I can do.' Never did tell them I couldn't do the bond, because that wasn't good for business. My daughter, who was my office manager, passed on the money and paperwork to other bondsmen."
It's called "working the deal," and it's similar to kiting checks.
It's also illegal.
"He lasted about two-and-a-half weeks," says Braaten, "and I fired him."
According to state records, he lasted two months.
Third time's the charm, though. Atkins went to work for Rick Adams. He's still there.
"Yeah, I'm still his general agent," says Adams. "I think you've got to give a person the benefit of the doubt. He's not writing bonds in the city now, just in the county."
Hazel Vernon works for Adams, too. When she hears Atkins' name mentioned on her car phone, she bursts into a raucous laugh and veers off the highway.
"Just squashed an orange pylon," she reports cheerfully. "Bill Atkins the bad bondsman? Yeah, he gave us all black eyes. He's got a problem, I understand."
She'll say no more.
But Atkins has decided that "innocent until proven guilty" is bullshit, at least among bail-bond agents. He calls them "a pool of sharks" and worries that the rumors have already convicted him.
He says Cox poisoned his clients' minds against him, even started a rumor that he was on crack cocaine.
Atkins levels clear brown eyes:
"Do I look like I'm on drugs?"
Waving the Denny's waitress over, he orders a second French-vanilla cappuccino with whipped cream.
"During the time I was idle, passing on bonds, because everybody else doesn't move as fast as I do, they can't reach me, they get nervous," he says. "Cox told them I'd stolen their money and they should call the police. If he can discredit me, telling my clients Bill Atkins is on drugs, they will remember him. It's just a form of stealing business.
"My telephone usually rings constantly, and now it's idle," he says, waving the silent cell phone in disgust. Stale Salem fumes float from the mouthpiece.
Then it rings.
"May I help you?" he asks, deepening his voice.
"He must be in a meeting right now. Let me give you another number."
He hits "end call" and smoothly resumes his narrative.
In November, he filed his own report at Bel-Ridge, accusing Cox of breaking into his office and stealing 130 files to ruin his business.
Bel-Ridge Detective William Toy says, "There's no proof to substantiate the complaint, but the case is still active." A wanted-for-questioning notice went out on Cox, who was held downtown until his lawyer appeared to ask why.