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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

Tom Sams, who’s been a director of the Florida Pawnbrokers Association for the past 17 years, says that before the Florida Pawnbroking Act was passed, pawnbrokers were “left out in the cold” and without due process if they were found to have stolen property in their stores. If they were required to turn it over without reimbursement for the money they’d spent, then there were two crime victims instead of just one: the person whose belongings were stolen and the pawnbroker, who had paid a criminal for the goods. Sams says this was extremely problematic because of the number of people who don’t secure their property appropriately or live with someone who is likely to steal and pawn their valuables. For instance, Sams says, when kids would steal from parents and pawn the items, the parents would often refuse to press charges against their own child – as a result, he says, there was no way for the pawnbrokers to recoup their losses. So the law needed to change. Now, he says, the system is more balanced.

“The processes themselves work out very well,” he says. “A person can pick up their property for what the pawnbroker has in it and get immediate receipt of their stolen property.” Alternately, they can file a replevin action in court against the pawnbroker and allow a judge to rule whether the property should be returned. There are no filing fees for the victim and the process is completely free if the person wins the case (if they lose, it is possible that they could be asked to cover court costs for the pawnbroker). When asked whether it seems fair to further victimize the people whose property was stolen in the first place, Sams is cynical.

“Well, I would ask, how easy is it for them to not become a victim?” Sams says. “And now the pawnbroker’s the victim? The pawnbroker who followed the law and records all the information? Why should they be so happy to make the pawnbroker the victim? It’s a tough position. A person says, ‘Why should I have to pay for my property twice?’ They were a victim, they were robbed. If you give them their property back without a [process], then they were never a victim in the first place.”

He suggests that people who find themselves in situations like Noblett’s attempt to negotiate with the pawnbrokers and try to reach a fair deal – perhaps splitting the cost of the stolen property or working out a payment plan. In some cases, pawnbrokers will turn over property at no charge because they think it’s the right thing to do.

Noblett says she did call Monarch to discuss the case, but she says she was told that the store was a victim, too.

One of the shop’s owners, John Przeclawski, says this is the first time he’s ever encountered a situation like this – “We are very careful not to buy anything stolen in the first place,” he says – and so far he’s found it a very unpleasant place to be. He says the conversation he had with Noblett was “not a very positive conversation,” and the two couldn’t come to any kind of agreement.

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