Originially published in the December 2015 issue of LatinTRENDS Magazine
By Anllelic Lozada
This boss lady is the queen of a controversial industry mostly dominated by men. As the owner of one of the biggest private bail bond agencies in the state of New York, Empire Bail Bonds, Michelle Esquenazi is part criminal justice agent, part lobbyist and part therapist.
As the “Bail Bond Queen,” Michelle has come to the rescue to thousands—mostly moms and dads—who don’t have enough money to post bail for their sons and daughters while they wait for court dates after being arrested for suspicion of committing a crime. She lends them money for a fee.
We spoke with Michelle while she was on vacation in the Cayman Islands. She was candid and tough but with a lot of soul.
With six “Empire” offices in New York, how did you get started in the bail bond business?
Twenty-two years ago, I was a single mom on welfare and had a cousin that helped me get a job
in a bail bond agency. Within a year, I saw that the owner was corrupt and I knew I could do it better, so I decided to go on my own. Even though I had no prior business experience, my Cuban father taught me the discipline of doing everything the Latino way, which is working very hard.
Tell us about a particular case that you felt particularly emotional about.
One day, a woman from El Salvador who spoke no English came to see me. She was crying
hysterically because her daughter got arrested for defending her mother in a family feud with
her older sister during a BBQ for her birthday. She had one daughter in the hospital and the youngest one in jail. I had to sit with her and give her a granola bar because she didn’t eat in 24 hours. I got her daughter out and brought her straight out from jail to our office, which is something I usually don’t do. A few months later, I brought her daughter, JoJo, to the office to sign documents for her probation. I asked her if she would consider being in the criminal justice system and I asked her if she could start working on Monday. I saw a potential in her, plus she had no criminal record. She was just defending her mother, something that I probably would have done too. Now she runs the entire front end of the agency. She’s my right hand. Everything goes through JoJo. She’s definitely one of my success stories.
What’s your advice for Latinos?
30-40% of our clients are Latinos and I want them to be educated. Before you give your money to a bail bond agency, ask questions, like how long they have been in business. Check with the state department and ask if they have a license. If you have any questions, contact me. Also, I want to share my biggest mantras for success: never mix emotions with business. This is a recipe for failure.
Tell us about your reality TV show, “Queen of the Bounty Hunters,” now airing on the Lifetime Movie Network.
Honestly, my focus is not on the show. My heart is really on my work as a lobbyist in the New York legislature to set a national example for bail. My goal is to set on the importance of our industry to every state in the USA. For the government to understand the need for bail in the American criminal justice system. I’m confident I will achieve it.