MODESTO — The jewelry three Modesto city workers found in the sewer and then sold is not the kind of stuff you'd want to give to your sweetheart.
The gold jewelry was in twisted fragments, pitted, stained and discolored from being in the sewer.
"They steam cleaned it, but it still was pretty gross," said Modesto Gold, Jewelry and Coins employee Yvonne Brawley, who bought the jewelry from the city employees. "It can't be resold. No one is going to want to wear it. I can promise you that."
Modesto police are investigating the workers, who sold about $2,500 worth of jewelry they found while cleaning sewer lines. The investigation started earlier this year; police said the sales took place over a couple of months.
Police said the workers sold the jewelry to a business that buys gold, which they have not identified.
But Brawley said the three employees came into her store in their city of Modesto uniforms. She said one is a woman who, Brawley said, had sold jewelry several times over a couple of years. Brawley said the woman told her she also sells jewelry in Oakdale. Brawley said the two men sold jewelry at her store one time last month.
Modesto Gold, Jewelry and Coins is a second-hand dealer that buys gold jewelry and sells it to refineries that melt it for reuse.
Police became aware of the city workers' transactions during a routine audit. Police frequently check the records of pawn shops and other businesses that buy valuables, looking for anything unusual that may indicate someone has sold stolen property.
"I can't see that there is any crime," Modesto Gold, Jewelry and Coins co-owner Claude Sutherland said Wednesday. "If we thought it was a crime, my employees would never have taken it. And I don't think there was a crime committed."
Police Chief Galen Carroll said Tuesday it's not clear whether the workers committed a crime, but as city employees he said he believes they had an obligation to turn in the property or find the owners. The police investigation is nearing completion. City officials have not identified the workers or commented because the investigation has not been completed.
Brawley's description of the jewelry sounds right to Carrie Mattingly, San Luis Obispo's director of utilities and president of the California Water Environment Association, an industry group for waste-water professionals.
Mattingly said the sulfuric acid produced by decomposing sewage eats away at the metal jewelry. And the action of the high-pressure hose used to clean sewer lines can produce the same effect on jewelry as placing it in a blender on high.
"It's rare to find jewelry or a necklace that is recognizable," she said.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.