MANATEE -- A pawn shop receipt filed with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office lists two pieces of jewelry stolen from Liz Sullivan of Creekwood as “a 14-karat blue stone, oval, birthstone ring” and “a 14-karat gold chain with a bow.”
That is in stark contrast to the way Sullivan describes the two pieces: “a turquoise fashion ring with a north/south setting with a cluster of diamonds on each side” and “a 14-karat Bismarck chain with three bows.”
Why, asks Sullivan, can’t pawn shops be more exact in their descriptions, which could help victims recover goods that are stolen?
Why aren’t they required to take digital photographs of all the goods they receive as well as digital photographs of the person pawning the items?
Why do victims either have to repay pawn shops to get their stolen goods back or wait until the case against the suspect reaches its end?
Sullivan, who was the victim of an $9,000 in-home theft involving 18 to 19 pieces of her jewelry and a Canon digital camera including her personal photo card during the last six months, wants to renew the efforts of Palmetto’s Dr. James Briles, who pushed unsuccessfully for new pawn shop legislation last year.
Briles’ wife, Kathleen, was slain on Aug. 3, 2009 during a home invasion in which $40,000 worth of property was stolen.
The Briles family visited pawn shops all over the Tampa Bay area and were frustrated by imprecise paper work.
Briles’ ideas, contained in Senate Bill 1662 and known as “Kathleen’s Cause,” would have required pawn shops to initiate a database of digital images allowing crime victims to scour websites looking for their stolen property.
Kathleen’s Cause was sponsored and filed by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, The bill died in the Commerce and Tourism Committee.
Sullivan’s ideas would take it farther in asking for an immediate turn-over of stolen goods.
Someone she knew did it
Amber Lynn Elwood, 27, a Bradenton woman who had just started dating Sullivan’s son in the later part of November, 2010, pawned multiple pieces of Sullivan’s jewelry from Jan. 2 to June 13 at Buccaneer Pawn and America’s Super Pawn, according to sheriff’s office records.
Elwood was arrested Wednesday and charged with dealing in stolen property. She is being held on $32,000 bond.”
“The last pawn that Amber made was on June 13, the same day I was volunteering for the sheriff’s office in crime prevention,” Sullivan said.
For more than a year, Sullivan has been a volunteer community service aide for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
When Sullivan reported her theft to the sheriff’s office, she received a call a couple of weeks later asking her about her jewelry. The sheriff’s 0ffice could not be sure if any of the descriptions of jewelry recently pawned matched Sullivan’s jewelry because they didn’t have accurate detail, Sullivan said.
“If the sheriff’s office had had a digital photograph of my fashion ring and my Bismarck chain they would have known right off the bat that they were mine,” Sullivan said. “In fact, if they had digital photos of people who recently pawned jewelry, I could have looked through them and identified one I had known to be in my home.”
Sullivan has to pay Buccaneer Pawn between $600 and $700 that it paid Elwood for eight jewelry pieces and must pay $15 to America’s Super Value Pawn to recover her camera.
On principle, she is refusing to pay either.
Right now, state statutes say the case either has to go through legal channels and a verdict reached as to restitution or the victim has to repay the pawn shop what it paid to get the goods back,
“If the victim goes into the pawn shop with the detective, with the proper documentation, I feel the items should be returned to the victim immediately and at no cost,” Sullivan said. “I don’t feel we should have to pay to get it back because they lost out.”
Pawn shops get bad rap
Jose Ybarra, manager of Buccaneer Pawn, which has about eight of Sullivan’s pieces on hold until the case is concluded, says that the pawn business is misunderstood and people don’t realize pawn brokers take risks to provide the services they do.
For instance, after judges in Florida reach a verdict on a case and hand down a restitution for the criminal, the victims can immediately get their goods back. But that doesn’t mean the pawn shops will get paid back immediately for what they paid out, Ybarra said.
“I have gotten a check from the state for 67 cents a month because that is all the criminal could pay,” Ybarra said Friday.
Buccaneer Pawn does take digital photos of items “from time to time” although it is not every item, Ybarra said. Having to do that would be an unfair burden on many operators, he said.
“We have the equipment to do that,” Ybarra said. “I don’t believe small shops can afford that hardware.”
Ybarra said pawn shop employees do make descriptions as accurate as possible.
“I do as much as possible to describe everything I take in,” Ybarra said. “We add as much detail as possible to help law enforcement.”
“I am happy to work with anyone, but no one wants to lose out,” Ybarra added when asked about Sullivan’s suggestion that crime victims should get their goods back immediately. “The criminal should be the ones who loses out. Our business shouldn’t have to suffer because someone stole items.”
People who want to see the pawn business further regulated are essentially saying they just don’t like the business, Ybarra said,
“If we don’t do this business, they would never see their property again because it would be sold on the street,” Ybarra said. “But now she gets the chance to recover some of her sentimental stuff that she could have lost forever. Some people don’t see it that way, but the way I see it is: ‘Be thankful we did take it in and you are getting it back.’ We don’t just sit here and point fingers at customers and call them thieves.”
Briles after “bad guys”
Briles says he is not an opponent of the pawn industry, just people who use it for their criminal pursuits.
In fact, while he sympathizes with Sullivan’s loss, he doesn’t think making the pawn shops return stolen items with no compensation is the right way to go.
“If pawn dealers do everything appropriately, why should they be held accountable?” Briles said. “Most of the pawn shop guys I met are legitimate guys, who have no way to know they are getting stolen goods. But if you start taking pictures, this criminal activity will dry up a bit.”
Kathleen’s Cause failed because the timing was bad, Briles said.
“It was a deregulation session and this was more regulation and they just didn’t want to hear it,” said Briles, who plans on renewing his efforts next year.
Briles is passionate about everything else Sullivan suggests, especially a digital data base with all pawned items in it.
He foresees a day when a detective with the sheriff’s deputy can sit at his or her desk and review digital photos of items from all around the Tampa Bay area,
“I think, ultimately, it will easier for the pawn shop owners by eliminating all those stacks of papers,” Briles said.
His dream is that the data base will one day include second hand dealers, scrap metal merchants and pawn shops.
“We have to shoot for the moon before we shoot for the stars,” Briles said.
Bennett said on Friday that he is considering re-tooling the bill so it has a better chance in 2012.
“I think everything got tied up in the session, but I still like it,” he said. “We will take another look at it and do a little more homework and make sure we can pull it off.”
As for Sullivan, she is trying to heal from her experience.
“I live by a quote from George MacDonald, who said, “‘To be trusted is a greater complement than to be loved,’” she said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.