Bounty Hunters Assail Tactics in Luster Capture

When a bounty hunter who goes by "Dog" captured convicted rapist and cosmetics heir Andrew Luster (search), he grabbed the national spotlight, as well as time in a Mexican jail and the disdain of his colleagues.

"He represents all of the things that bail agents are trying to get away from — the cowboy image, the renegade, bring 'em home dead or alive," said Penny Harding, executive director of the California Bail Agents Association (search), which represents 500 bail bondsmen.

Duane "Dog" Chapman (search) — his nickname is God spelled backward — crossed a line with his tactics, starting with crossing the border into Mexico and grabbed Luster as he stood at a taco stand Wednesday, fellow agents said.

While Luster, 39, was arrested and turned over to the FBI, who returned him to California, Chapman was thrown in a Mexico jail and faces potential charges ranging from entering the country illegally to kidnapping.

"In my schools, we tell them cross-border stuff is a no-no," said Mel Barth, executive director of the 3,200-member National Association of Bail Enforcement Agents (search). "You don't go into a foreign country and try to kidnap."

Bounty hunters work for bail agents, tracking down those who fail to show up in court after bail has been posted. They usually are paid 10 percent to 15 percent of the bail amount. It's a deal because bail companies lose the full amount to the court if a fugitive fails to show up for six months.

Chapman's incentive in this case was unclear because Luster, a Max Factor heir and trust fund recipient, made his own $1 million bail, authorities said.

Convicted of drugging and raping three women between 1996 and 2000, Luster fled in January before being sentenced in absentia to 124 years in prison. A $10,000 reward was posted, but it wasn't clear if Chapman qualifies.

Despite Hollywood's guns-and-fists image, professional bounty hunters say they rarely resort to violence.

"We always joke our biggest weapon is the phone," said Craig Stephenson, who has been catching fugitives for 18 years.

Stephenson has traded punches with his targets and once had his car peppered with rifle fire, but he doesn't carry a gun. Three weeks ago, when he captured a man in Mexico accused of molesting a 13-year-old girl, he simply called relatives and convinced them they should turn him in or lose their bail money.

"An American is easy to get out of Mexico," he said. "You have him arrested locally on immigration violation with the locals. They'll send him over."

In fact, the FBI was only hours behind Chapman, said spokeswoman Laura Bosley in Los Angeles. A vacationing couple who had partied with Luster in Puerto Vallarta saw a TV report and contacted Chapman, Bosley said.

The couple contacted the FBI two days later, and an agent in Guadalajara was en route Wednesday when Luster was captured. Luster was in a California prison Friday, and his attorney filed papers asking the state Supreme Court to reconsider a ruling that he forfeited rights to appeal.

Before coming to Mexico, Chapman, 50, had told reporters he hoped that, by capturing Luster, he would reap a reward. He refused to discuss Luster when he spoke briefly with reporters Thursday from jail.

"Nothing about Luster. Nothing about Luster. That's it. I'm done," he said.

Stephenson said he wouldn't hire someone with Chapman's style because of the chance of being sued.

"Never. Never. The civil liabilities are brutal," he said.

Rough tactics can also bring criminal charges. Last summer, a Kansas City man died when bounty hunters arresting his brother placed him in a chokehold. One man was charged with involuntary manslaughter, and civil rights groups called for national regulation of the industry.

No national law regulates bounty hunters, and state laws vary widely: Some states don't require a license, while others, including California, are vigilant, requiring background checks and strict training. A few, including Illinois and Oregon, have outlawed the profession.

Though Chapman served time for murder in Texas and has a Web site describing him as a "modern-day Billy the Kid," many bounty hunters come from military or law enforcement backgrounds and keep a low profile.

The work is often part-time, and the bread-and-butter is finding people sought for drunken driving, prostitution, narcotics and check fraud.

Some bounty hunters take home $30,000 a year, though the money can reach six figures.

"It's a lucrative business, but it is not a glamorous business by any stretch of the imagination," said L. Scott Harrell of Austin, Texas-based CompassPoint Investigations. He has made more than 1,000 captures in the past decade.

"We spend a lot of time in surveillance, and surveillance is a very boring business. You sit in cold cars for days on end," he said.

Harrell estimates that bounty hunters capture 90 to 95 percent of the people they seek.

"As long as there are bail bondsman ... there will always be people like me," he said. "We will always have a job."