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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

Did they have anything that belonged to her? “Yes.”

Were they willing to give it back? “No. They offered me to buy it back. They only had one thing – a pinkie ring with a floating heart. She advised that I could buy it for $25. But I’ll be damned if they’re going to keep it.”

Noblett says she’ll now add Cash Pawn to the list of places she’ll take to court to retrieve her stolen goods.

According to Jack Gee, a retired law enforcement officer and former president of the Florida Law Enforcement Property Recovery Unit, the current law (and the industry’s refusal to bend on it) doesn’t do a very good job of helping pawnbrokers improve their images. If the industry policed itself better, many law-enforcement agencies believe, there might not be such a huge market in stolen goods in states like Florida, where the concentration of pawn shops is dense. (According to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, there are 1,432 licensed pawn shops in the state and 78 in Orange County.) When the 1996 law was being debated, Gee says, the industry attempted to pass it off as a regulatory measure that would help combat crime – instead, he says, the law protects unscrupulous pawnbrokers from having to pay the price for taking in stolen goods in the first place. He is quick to point out that not all pawnbrokers are seedy businesspeople – and for those who do business in good faith, this law offers protection; but for those who don’t, it can be seen as a way to shirk responsibility for doing business with thieves.

“There are some heartbreaking times when you meet people who, literally, have to buy their own property back,” Gee says. “It’s sad, but that’s the way it is. It’s not that the pawnshops are evil. They spent money in good faith to buy this property and they don’t want to be out the money either.” He says that if the industry wants to turn its image around, he thinks one good place to start would be to ditch support for a law that seems to let the less-than-savory segment of the pawnbroking industry off the hook too easily.

“What do you think of when you think of pawnshops? Seedy, right?” he says. “And situations like this help keep that reputation going. The Florida Pawnbrokers, they all want to change the public view of them. Well, this is one way of doing it.”

The refusal of three pawnbrokers in a row to return her jewelry certainly hasn’t given Noblett a very rosy view of the industry.

“I never thought much about pawnshops before,” she says as she sits at a Wawa across the street from Cash Pawn. “You see these shows on TV about pawnbrokers, and I guess they’re very idealized.”

She doesn’t show a lot of emotion about the situation until she’s asked how it makes her feel. It’s been more than two months since she was shot in the middle of the night, and she’s not aware of any new leads or suspects in the investigation. People have been arrested for burglarizing her home and stealing her stuff, but she can’t get any of it back until her replevin action cases against the pawnbrokers wind their way through court. She’s living with her parents because she’s afraid to move back to her townhouse, which she just bought two years ago. “I guess I’m just very naive,” she says, her eyes filling with tears.

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