Dogging the Bounty Hunter

"Freeze!" I scream at the punk sprinting away from us.

I'm not sure which is racing faster, my feet or my heart. The only bounty hunting I've done is in the paper towel aisle at Albertsons. Yet tonight, two bail-enforcement agents and I are giving chase to a potentially dangerous criminal through the darkest crannies of Las Vegas' underbelly.

What happens next, I have no idea. Maybe the fugitive will escape. Maybe he'll give up. Maybe he'll shoot.

To be a bounty hunter in Nevada, you have to take an 80-hour course on investigating, firearms and handcuffing. Then you have to pass a background check, written test and psychological evaluation.

Or you have to be an insane reporter. Joe Intiso told me I had "no idea" the trouble I was asking for when I wanted to sign on for a day.

"Being a bounty hunter is 10 times more dangerous than being a police officer," the 43-year-old former Army Airborne Ranger told me on the phone. "When law enforcement goes to take somebody down, they've got 20 guys, helicopters and dogs. We've got three guys."

The United States has about 400 bounty hunters, 38 in Nevada. Citizens' arrests are all they can make.

"And because you're not a police officer, people are more apt to resist," Intiso says.

Intiso is asking for his own trouble. I report for duty looking like Duane "Dog" Chapman, star of A&E's "Dog the Bounty Hunter" reality show.

For one mullet haircut to stand out as more ridiculous than another is an achievement, and Dog has no shame walking around beneath the world title-holder. Serge's Showgirl Wigs mangled a beautiful women's hairpiece into a fitting tribute. Vegas Costume Works owner Tracy Bohl went equally overboard, using me as a living mannequin for every stitch of unused "We Will Rock You" costuming. (Bohl said she purchased clothes for the late Queen musical in all sizes. Apparently, none of the actors were XXS.)

Intiso easily could have been offended. Instead, laughter overtakes him.

"That's cool, man," he says. (He speaks not entirely unlike Tommy Chong in "Up in Smoke.")

Intiso hands me my bulletproof vest as we hop into his Ford F-150 truck, where fugitives whimper in the back seat after they're caught. (An average day sees two or three.)

"Grown men crying, big guys," Intiso says.

I ask if I can pack a gun. More laughter ensues.

Fine, I don't need one of his weapons anyway. I'm wielding a secret one. In case criminals attack, I will, I will, rock them.

Our first suspect is a six-time bail-skipper whose bond is $2,115. (Bounty hunters typically live off 10 percent of the bonds of captured fugitives.) His original charges were traffic-related.

"It's the little ones that are the biggest problems," Intiso says. "They're the ones who really don't want to go to jail."

Intiso makes a U-turn over a Sahara Avenue traffic island. Intiso's two partners in crime-fighting -- Russell Stoll, 31, and Jason Pollock, 28 -- do the same in the truck behind us.

We're rushing after our suspect before he leaves work for lunch.

"Sometimes you have to do things in our work that don't, um, comply with the rules," Intiso says.

We pull up to the locksmith where the bond's co-signer said the suspect works.

"Let's go make some people cry," Intiso says as though starring in a '70s crime drama produced by Stephen J. Cannell. He tells me to cover the back of the building with him. Stoll takes the front and Pollock, as usual, enters the premises asking for the fugitive.

"He looks more like a delivery guy than a bounty hunter," Intiso says, dropping his first of many hints that perhaps my outfit is making this job harder.

"A lee-tlebit," Intiso says.

Not only is Dog the world's most famous bounty hunter -- he found Max Factor heir/fugitive rapist Andrew Luster in 2003 -- he's also the world's most noticeable person from five blocks away. Dog wants entire towns knowing he's on the prowl. That way, more informants come forward.

The overwhelming majority of bounty hunters, including my new partners, do not agree with this logic.

"The element of surprise is very useful," Intiso says.

Maybe this is why Dog collars about 385 fugitives a year, while Intiso's Gator Bail Enforcement captured more than 600 in 2005.

Maybe this is why Brigitte Welles, owner of Las Vegas' Locked Up Bail Bonds, says Intiso delivers 100 percent of her suspects, while Dog failed the one time she hired him (to nab a $10,000 skip in Dog's hometown of Honolulu.)

Maybe this is why Intiso motions for me to duck whenever he rolls down the windows to speak to someone.

Our fugitive doesn't work at this locksmith anymore, Pollock emerges to tell us.

Intiso flips open his laptop and starts tapping, accessing LocatePLUS. Open-source Web sites are the bounty hunter's best supplier of info besides informants (who get paid $50 if their tips pay off).

Strike two is the apparently empty Henderson apartment of our next fugitive. Wanted for battery and domestic violence, she skipped out on a $5,500 bond.

"Girls are the worst because they hide better," Intiso says. "And guys never tell you about the chicks, especially if they're happy with them."

Our next target, a catering employee fleeing DUI charges, isn't where his bond paperwork claims, either. Strike three.

"You watch that Dog show, you see this guy apprehend two or three guys in an hour," Intiso says. "But you don't see the five or six days of legwork it took to find them."

He doesn't like "Dog the Bounty Hunter" much -- mostly because it divulges trade secrets. One is the lies bounty hunters tell.

"Most of (the suspects) lie to us first!" Pollock snaps. "They have no intention of going to court before they bail out. So the lies start when they're in jail making a call for bail."

"You've got to catch a liar with a lie," Stoll agrees.

At the Henderson apartment of a battery suspect who skipped out on his $3,120 bond, Intiso asks the suspect's girlfriend to assure him he's not going to jail.

"He just needs to fill out his paperwork at the bond office," Intiso insists.

As she makes the call, Intiso turns and whispers to me: "If he's a smart dude, he won't come here."

"We tell everyone the same thing," Pollock says later. "Come with us and you'll get a new court date.

"We just leave out the part about going to jail first."

Intiso lets me handcuff the suspect when he arrives, as his girlfriend shouts obscenities at us. It's more action than my Tuesday afternoons usually pack, but not enough for an adventure article.

That order gets filled at 6 p.m., when Stoll, Pollock and I spot a truck pulling up to the Maryland Parkway house of our next fugitive. (Intiso is off doing paperwork.) Stoll pulls his Ford F-150 up behind the suspect. He runs. We chase.

This is the part where I yelled "freeze" before. What I didn't say was that I'm a quarter-block behind both the suspect and my colleagues when I yell it. I don't know how Dog catches anyone dressed like this. Cowboy boots have to be second to stilts as the all-time slowest footwear.

The suspect scales an 8-foot fence, with Stoll and Pollock in hot pursuit. I catch up, and we wrestle the suspect into submission.

And when I say we, I of course mean they.

"Put your palms together like you're praying, (expletive)!" Stoll yells as he handcuffs our suspect. Pollock stands nearby, gun drawn.

One problem about our suspect: He's not our suspect. He's just some dude who ran. Stoll and Pollock are sure he has secrets, but they won't discover what they are. Bounty hunters have no right to hold someone they're not hired to find, and no way of checking for outstanding warrants.

Before our nonsuspect is released, he makes an observation.

"Are you that guy from TV?" he asks, looking at me. I don't respond, curious about where he's headed.

"You look taller on TV."

You probably didn’t know I was a gangsta-rapper


Gangsta rappers don’t have to be thugs from the ‘hood before beginning their music careers.

Tupac Shakur was a well-adjusted New York City kid who acted in musicals, sang in the church choir and wrote sensitive poetry while attending Baltimore’s High School for the Performing Arts. 

Ice Cube grew up middle-class.

But what are the limits of gangsta rap’s ability to impart hard-edged street cred? Can anyone become a gangsta rapper?

These sound like questions for Hard Corey, my alter-ego.

To begin my career in gangsta rap, I consult with Doc Holiday, a rising rapper whose presence suggests a young Ice-T and who spells his name with one less “l” than the outlaw gunslinger. Holiday is currently recording an album called “Guerilla Pimpin'” for Hawthorne-based indie label Dungen Recordz. (Yes, Guerilla has only one “r,” Dungen has no “o” and the “z” at the end is correct. There is a high correlation between the publication of articles about rap music and the resignation of copy editors.)  

“I could see you as a white pimp,” says Holiday, 28, who was born Willie Johnson III in Pomona and now lives in Inglewood. “There ain’t that many white pimps. There’s probably none.”

Finding an original niche is one of gangsta rap’s core principles — nearly as important as titling your album’s opening track “Intro” and filling it with the sounds of gunshots and screaming. But I suspect that the pimp image isn’t for me. Bright colors and feathers looked masculine on Rooster from “Baretta.” But on someone like me? Not so much.

“That’s cool,” says Holiday. “Can’t everybody be a pimp.”

Holiday knows about pimps because he happens to be one in real life. Kicking back in the living room of his apartment near the Hollywood Park racetrack, he introduces me to his “ho,” a 27-year-old East L.A. resident named China, who is wrapped in a leather skirt and sparkly gold bikini top.

He offers her to me, as one would a bottle of Heineken to a visitor.  

I thank Holiday politely, clarifying why ethics dictate that I decline. I try and explain away any implication that China might not be a good or attractive enough ho for me.

“What’s the matter, you scared of (expletive)?” Holiday snaps, referring to a highly specific part of the female anatomy. “Well, you kickin’ it with a pimp, man. If you was kickin’ it with Snoop Dogg, and he wanted to smoke a hydroponic butt with you, would you? Of course you would.  

“Well, you kickin’ it with Doc Holiday and I’m trying to give you some (expletive).”

Our image consultation session isn’t going as smoothly as I had hoped. After several more sputtering starts, Holiday offers to accompany me down the street to my car, “so you don’t get shot out there by yourself.” En route, he has a flash of insight.

“I guess you could just be yourself,” he says. “Come up with a list of things that are important to who you are and we’ll talk about lyrics.”

The Geto Boys, Alkaholiks and Bad Azz (there go those “z”‘s again) glare down from photos on the walls of Black Hole Recording Studios in Hawthorne. They’re not the only famous onetime residents. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony recorded its first album here, and Eazy-E is said to have recorded some post-N.W.A. tracks while staying in a Torrance hotel.

The couch in the lobby is crammed with rappers and their friends. Either waiting for studio time or lending support, they watch “Ricki Lake” and make cell phone calls heavy on the phrase “shut your little bitch ass up.”

In the studio, business is being conducted between potential Doc Holiday producer El Nino; rapper Ammo Arsenal, whose Dungen album, “Da Ghetto Warrior,” is in stores now; and Papi Rico, 28-year-old Dungen president and owning partner of Black Hole, who is also a rapper with his own album, “Look Listen & Learn,” coming out on Dec. 12. (Please forgive the promotional interruptions. They also serve to promote my safety.)

Holiday escorts me into an empty room to begin our lyric collaboration. I have written three stanzas so far. Following Holiday’s suggestion, they involve things that are important to who I am: being a journalist, hailing from Long Island and — because it rhymes so easily with “beat ass” — drinking wheatgrass juice.

“You got to explain this wheatgrass stuff,” says Holiday during our brainstorming session. “What is wheatgrass? Grass that grows out of the ground — like out front? Why would you drink that?”

Feverishly scribbling, he begins the translation of my hopefully amusing musings into true gangsta-speak. Then he makes an unexpected announcement: “You know I expect compensation for my work, right?”

I explain that I don’t have any budget for this article. In fact, I just paid $20 out of my own pocket for the bottle of Hennessey cognac that Rico required to secure his cooperation with my gangsta makeover.  

Holiday grabs his notepad down and storms out the door. First I turn down China and now this? If Holiday is telling the truth — and I am certainly not one to suggest that he’s not — then he has just finished seven years in prison for armed robbery in Van Nuys and two separate spousal abuse sentences.

I may soon have something in common with members of the Clanton gang — getting killed by a guy with the same name.

I inform Rico of the artistic differences between Holiday and myself, but he has other matters to attend to. We are running late for our session and delaying other reservations at the studio.

“You have a half hour,” Rico says. Reminded of his promise of supplying the wardrobe for my rap debut, he reaches into a bin and pulls out a grey Dungen Recordz T-shirt, a pair of dark jeans seven sizes too big and a black ski cap that resembles the one other third-graders would yank off my head to play “keep away” with in the schoolyard.

I stare in a mirror and threaten even myself.

“No, the butt has to be hanging over your belt strap,” insists rapper Sugar Cane, a 24-year-old Hawthorne resident who has just involuntarily volunteered to be my stylist.

“You have to s-a-g,” he says, revealing how his own boxers protrude above his pants, which hang nearly down to public-toilet-hovering level.

“That’s it,” he says as I make the uncomfortable adjustment. I now understand why gangsta rappers walk so funny. It’s all about keeping the pants up.

I inquire about gold chains. “Nah,” says Cane. “We don’t do the chains thing on the West Coast. That’s for the East Coast cats, the bling-bling. We don’t do it like that, because if you got that on, you might get jacked.”

With my half a song, I enter the vocal booth, my belt chafing against my thighs. Rico is too busy to engineer my rap debut, so he hands the duty off to Holiday, who wants the practice anyway. Rico reminds us that we have only 15 minutes left. The pressure rises as my pants fall.

After Holiday lowers the boom microphone to kiddie height, he offers me headphones. Playback begins of a CD prerecorded by Black Hole and normally licensed out for $2500 per song to rappers who wish to base their own recordings around it.  

Staring at my lyric printout, I contemplate singing like a famous gangsta rapper — angry and gruff like DMX, smooth like Ice Cube or lilting beyond the bounds of the English language like Snoop Dogg. But Holiday’s words keep going through my head — not the ones warning me not to “(expletive) up” through the headphones, but the ones he said back at his crib: “Just be yourself.”

With the extra confidence in my thugness that only potato sacks hugging my thighs can provide, I discover my inner gangsta and the rhymes begin flowing practically by themselves.

“My name is Hard Corey!” I pronounce. “I got the story, hit ya like a two-by-four-y!”

Did I mention that I received no help with these lyrics?

After my initial vocal, Holiday requests another, for an effect called double-tracking. When I peer up through the heavily tinted glass into the control room, the entire lobby has emptied out to observe me. There is more hooting and hollering than at the transsexuals on Ricki Lake. Sugar Cane, in particular, is ecstatic.

“You have a flow!” he enthuses. “Not a Slim Shady flow, but you have a Hard Corey flow! This is original right here. You feel me?”

Cane, who thought I was a narc when I first walked in, is so thoroughly converted that he agrees to be my MC, the Flava Flav to my Chuck D.

“Oh-ohh, Hard Corey!” he shouts over and over during the recording of what are known as the ad-lib tracks, which are added to the mix for background effect.

Of course, at just over one minute, my song is a little short for gangsta rap. But then, at just over 5 feet 6 inches, so am I. But no one at Black Hole seems to mind.

Even Doc Holiday comes around, slapping my back after Rico completes mixing the track down.

“You’re pretty good,” he says.

“You’re not the very worst rapper I’ve worked with,” adds Rico.  

As I leave the studio, a rapper named OG Dino invites me to a pre-Thanksgiving party he’s throwing.  

“You have to come!” he insists. “You’re a gangsta now! You’re one of us!”

I don’t know if I proved that anyone can be a gangsta rapper. But I certainly proved that gangsta rappers have a sense of humor.

I’m still alive, am I not?

SCOOT YOURSELF: I test-ride an e-scooter and ride it right into a meeting of residents angry at e-scooters


On the afternoon of Wednesday, July 17, a nervous middle-aged man engaged in alternating fits of screaming ecstasy and profanity while scooting around The Village at 15 miles per hour.

That man was me. Part of my job is covering the controversy caused by the hundreds of dockless electric scooters staged and discarded around La Jolla’s streets and sidewalks every day. So, my editor thought, why not personally experience what I report about?

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Mother’s Day in Hell: Working at a flower shop


The last time anyone wants a yutz getting in the way at their flower shop is on Mother’s Day — the mother of all flower holidays. (Kristen Tebbetts, owner of Bloomers of La Jolla for the past 10 years, said it’s busier than Christmas or Valentine’s Day.)

Most of the three full-time florists at Bloomers, 7520 Eads Ave., worked from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on the Thursday and Friday before the big day, fulfilling more than 300 orders. The website was turned off on Thursday evening.

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BAPTISM BY GUNFIRE: Program gives public quasi-realistic taste of San Diego Police work


The suspect has been engaged by my partner and me. In the white sedan stopped in front of us is a male who matches the description of someone who, we were informed, just robbed a bank with a loaded gun, from which he fired several rounds into the bank’s ceiling.

As my partner calls for backup, I draw my gun and yell at the man to exit his car with his hands in the air.

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Damn it’s hard to find a dad friend


Before our daughter, I had a tight-knit circle of about a dozen male friends. This was in Las Vegas, where my wife and I lived for 11 years. They were artists, casino executives, and other writers. We hosted parties for them and their significants at our house and attended poker nights at theirs. We went out to dinner after work, then drinking and gambling until early the next morning. Four of us who worked for the same newspaper even formed a band. We played classic rock covers at bars and weddings.

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POLAR DISORDER: ‘Cub’ reporter finds La Jolla plunge un-BEAR-able


I wade slowly out into the Pacific from La Jolla Shores, my eyes on La Jolla Cove to the south. I have come to swim the mile there and back today, returning triumphant — like many of the real men around me at the 2018 Polar Bear Plunge.

The first hint I may be in over my head came earlier this morning, when La Jolla Swim Club member Bob West asked how I’ve trained. “A lot of pool work?” he asked. “Leg weightlifting?”

In 1989, West swam around the island of Manhattan. In 1991, he became the oldest person (at age 59) to swim the Catalina Channel and, in 1996, he completed the English Channel, setting the age record for that at 62. At 82, here he is today, swimming to The Cove because, he says, “that’s what I do.”

The entirety of my training, as I explain to West, consists of taking a cold bath last night and almost immediately switching to a hot shower in a panic. “Well,” West replied, “just get your head in the water and (expletive) swim then.”

Jumping into a cold ocean to kick off the new year has been a thing since millionaire health advocate Bernarr McFadden decided it should be in 1903 — something about curing New Year’s Eve hangovers and announcing the triumph of man over nature. His Coney Island Polar Bears still do it every Jan. 1 in their original New York location, where the water temperature usually hovers just above freezing. (This year, it was 37 degrees.)

The local version was launched in the mid-’60s by a group of divers — believed to be the famed Bottom Scratchers — who decided to plunge, wetsuitless, off the Children’s Pool sea wall. In 1993, the newly incorporated La Jolla Cove Swim Club took over the expanding tradition, moving it to The Shores after the surf proved too treacherous in 1998. Today, about 300 locals and residents gather at Kellogg Park to socialize until Steve Dillard blows his trumpet, indicating that it’s 10 a.m. and time to pose for a group photo and then hit the waves.

Polar Bear plungers pose for a group photo before hitting the waves.

“I just thought it would be something fun and interesting,” said Richard Williams, a San Diego resident who plunged along with his wife, Janette, for the first time. (Newbies here are called “cubs.”)

“I’m originally from North Dakota, so I’ve swam in cold water before.”

Some donned costumes for the celebration, such as the fluffy polar bear hats San Diego resident Karen McCord and her friends ordered on Amazon. Or the wetsuit worn by downtown resident Brad Michaels that was just a wet suit. (Get it?)

Many of my Facebook friends wondered how much of an accomplishment a Polar Bear Plunge could really be in San Diego, where neither ocean nor morning air temperatures in January dip below 60 degrees. (“You mean the Koala Bear Plunge?” one mocked.)

McCord told me she felt similar pressure from outside the region. “One year, we changed the water temperature on the lifeguard sign to make it look like 38 degrees, so we had a little more credibility,” she said.

As I wade further in to the Pacific, however, nothing seems wimpy or melodramatic about the pins and needles stabbing my feet. Sixty-degree water sounds warm but still quickly attempts to lower your core temperature to an equilibrium with it. All around, people are screaming things like “I can’t feel my legs!” and “This is (expletive) cold!”

In fact, earlier, La Jolla Cove Swim Club vice president Doug Burleigh told me he knew of one swimmer who died of a heart attack about 15 years ago suffered halfway between here and The Cove. (He couldn’t provide any specifics, only that it wasn’t during a Polar Bear Plunge.) By the way, Burleigh took one gander at me and declared that my pineapple Speedos ($30 at La Jolla Swim and Sport) would not suffice for an attempt to swim all the way to The Cove and back. I required a swim cap so that the heat won’t escape my head — and those just happened to be for sale at his club’s booth for $10. (Good thing I remembered to bring my first-grade daughter’s pink swim goggles, because $40 was all I was spending on this story.)

La Jolla Cove Swim Club vice president Doug Burleigh before swimming 2.5 miles in the Polar Bear Plunge

Most plungers splash in the water for just a few seconds, then run back out, screaming and patting their stomachs with towels — before patting their backs with social-media photos of their bravery. For more serious plungers, swimming toward a white marker about 25 yards from the shore is popular. But I am a warrior. I stare at The Cove, ignoring the screams of the weak and calling upon the sea gods for stamina. When the water approaches my waist, I dive. My mind is fully prepared. This is going to happen.

Steve Dillard summons plungers to the water with his trumpet.

Unfortunately, my body did not consult my mind beforehand. About 20 strokes is all it will provide before nearly running back to shore without me. The needles in my feet are now a thousand daggers stabbing all over my body, and I can’t be sure, but I think I just saw Jack and Rose from “Titanic” float by on a door. Shock, it turns out, is not so much fun.

Of course, the only thing worse than returning to the launching pad of your mission a failure, fewer than six minutes later, is seeing the people to whom you boasted about your mission heading out to accomplish their own. “Nice job,” says Burleigh, who slaps me an emasculating high-five as he begins a 2.5 mile round-trip swim that will take him in several circles in front of the Marine Room. (Burleigh gave his age only as “over 60.”)

Un-plunge-worthy Levitan basks in the warmth of the La Jolla sun, if not the glow of victory.

At least I’m not as cold as I thought I would be. I feared a bone chill that would last days. Instead, it lasts mere seconds in the 70 degree sunshine. I suppose it’s still better to live in San Diego without credibility than in Coney Island with it.

LEAVING LAS VEGAS: It’s Been Fun but it’s Time to Go Home!


They say Jews can last 40 years in the desert. Well, the limit for this one is 11.

Last summer, a friend and fellow reporter grew sick of my mocking his adopted hometown on Facebook and used it to spur a venomous editorial.

“If you can’t find a way to enjoy this city,” Al Mancini wrote in Vegas Seven, “do us all a favor: Go home.”

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JOCKEY FOR A DAY: FINE takes the Reins from Gary Stevens for Some Horse Play.


Standing 5-foot-6 with a voice that sounds like I inhaled helium, I always felt a pull toward horse racing. It’s the world’s only sport I may actually be too tall to qualify for.

"Your belly’s in the way!" Gary Stevens screams in the jockey exercise room at Del Mar Racetrack, where my training begins at 6:30 a.m. on the Equicizer, the mechanical horse on which Tobey Maguire trained to be a pretend jockey for the 2003 movie Seabiscuit.

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