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Cover 04/17/2013

Cash for stolen gold

Do Florida’s pawnbroking laws further victimize victims of crime?

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A

The investigating officer ran a search on the name of one of the next-door neighbors, Johnathan Gray, and found that he had recently pawned some jewelry at Monarch Jewelry and Art in Winter Park. One of the items he sold to Monarch was a jade frog pin – an item that was on the list of things stolen from Noblett’s home. The officer says he questioned Gray, who denied any involvement in the incident. Two days later, Willis met Noblett at Monarch to put a hold on the items that had been pawned so Noblett could try to identify them. Sure enough, Noblett says, it was her stuff.

“It wasn’t all there – I identified 10 to 12 pieces of jewelry, and they were all mine,” she says. According to the police report, the items had been sold to Monarch the same day Noblett was shot, just a couple of hours after police left the scene.

But even though it was clear that the items belonged to her – they matched the descriptions she’d given police, they’d all been pawned by her next-door neighbor on the same day she’d been shot and her house burglarized – Noblett wasn’t going to be allowed to simply take them back. She was told that if she wanted the items, she’d have to pay for them or take the shop to court under what’s called a “replevin action” and let a judge determine whether the items should be returned to her.

According to the Florida Pawnbroking Act, in order for someone to reclaim their stolen goods from a pawnbroker’s shop (or any store that buys and sells secondhand goods), the claimant must send the pawnbroker a certified letter including description of the stolen goods and a police report verifying that the items in question were stolen. After the pawnbroker receives the letter, he or she has 10 days to work something out with the person who’s making the claim – the pawnbroker may return the stolen goods, ask the crime victim to pay to get the stolen items back or simply refuse. The claimant then has a choice to make – simply cough up the cash and take the belongings home, try to haggle with the pawnbroker to negotiate a better price for the goods, or go to court.

The law, which was initially passed by the state Legislature in 1996 with strong support from the pawnbrokers’ trade associations (the Florida Pawnbrokers Association and the National Pawnbrokers Association), has been criticized for victimizing property-crime victims a second time when pawnbrokers request money for stolen goods. In 1999, Dateline NBC did an investigation of Florida pawnshops that suggested that the pawn laws in Florida facilitate crime by giving thieves an easy way to make quick cash on stolen items. The Dateline report, along with investigations by the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in 1996 and a 60 Minutes exposé in 1997, caused the Florida Senate to review the state’s pawnbroking laws in 2000 to see whether there really was cause for concern. The report acknowledged that, although the Florida Pawnbrokers Association discourages pawnshops from requesting that crime victims “buy back” their goods, the law doesn’t prohibit them from doing so, and the trade associations and lobbyists opposed any effort to put further onus on the pawnbrokers to shoulder more of the burden for dealing with stolen property than they already do.

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