November 3, 2013

Bee Investigator: Modesto theft victim must pay to regain stolen items

When Kevin Parman of Modesto found his stolen TVs and laptop in a Modesto secondhand shop, he thought he’d get them back. He did, but only after he paid for them. An odd state law seems to victimize people twice.

Picture this:

You come home one day to find that someone has broken into your home and stolen a bunch of stuff. Your neighbor says he saw your distant relative, a young man you recently hired to do some chores around your place, climb over your fence and go through a window. You confront the guy, who finally admits to the theft and tells you where he hocked the stuff. You go to that secondhand store and find your items, but when you notify police, you find out you have to pay for the goods to get them back. Oh, and some items have already been sold and others have been stripped of valuable parts.

Victimized twice. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

That’s what Kevin Parman of Modesto said happened to him.

“He took some TVs, an Xbox, mainly electronics,” he said of the 20-something son of his sister-in-law’s new husband. “I had a laptop that was gone. I had a catalytic converter that’s worth couple hundred dollars. I don’t know everything that is gone, because he kind of picked and chose things that I wouldn’t miss.”

Parman said he found some of the things at Gadget Exchange, a shop on McHenry Avenue in north Modesto that has a city business license but doesn’t have a license to sell secondhand goods. The owners, Khalil and Nariman Sood, were tagged in a Modesto Police Department operation Tuesday and charged with operating without that second license; several other secondhand shops in town also were targeted.

Parman said the relative told him he had sold two TVs and the laptop at the store for $150. The store owner, however, told Parman he had paid $250 for them, and that’s the amount Parman said he paid to get them back.

“I wasn’t pressing really hard; I just wanted them back,” Parman said, even after he discovered components missing from his laptop.

He said the relative not yet been charged with a crime. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but he was released and authorities told Parman there wasn’t enough evidence to hold him.

“Police have never talked with my neighbor,” he said. “And I have texts from (the relative), admitting to taking the stuff. It’s so frustrating.”

The frustration is understandable, according to law enforcement officials.

“The law says the person who owns that property has to reimburse the pawn (or secondhand) shop with how much they are out,” said Modesto police Sgt. Rigo Dealba, who works in the property-crimes unit. “If the shop buys a guitar for $50 and puts $50 into it to get it to a certain condition, the owner has to pay $100.”

There are about 45 pawn and secondhand stores in the Modesto area, he said, including jewelry stores that buy gold. Angie Bach, the Police Department’s sole community-service officer assigned to monitor such stores, said a pawn shop gives a loan to a person against a collateral of goods, such as tools, jewelry or a musical instrument. That person has up to four months to pay the loan back with interest and redeem the item before it can be sold. A pawn shop has to have a special license to make those loans.

A secondhand shop, on the other hand, buys goods outright from a person and can turn around and sell them. Often, pawn shops are also secondhand shops, but the reverse is not true. Both are supposed to turn in Department of Justice “buy slips” to the police with the name and address of the person selling an item, along with their thumbprint.

The California business and profession code, Dealba said, states that the businesses “shall report daily all tangible personal property taken in trade, taken in pawn, or sold. It includes jewelry and silverware. It must be fully completed in English with serial numbers, model names and numbers, a description of non-serialized property.”

Most stores follow the law, Dealba said.

“The majority of the pawn shop (and secondhand store) owners in our city are really good,” he said. “They turn away things that look suspicious. They’ll call us, or they’ll buy it and bring it to our attention. About half the work we get is from people calling us. But most come from Angie going to the pawn shops and picking up the slips and looking through a lot of the property. She looks through our property and theft reports, and when she starts looking at the property, she spots things.

“Sometimes, we’ll identify a burglary suspect and start looking for their names at the shops. Or odd things, like a 20-year-old pawning a lot of jewelry, or people pawning things who don’t live around here.”

Bach agreed.

“The majority of these people are on the up-and-up. People hear ‘pawn shop’ and think they’re shady. The majority of them are good people people, good business owners. They complete the DOJ forms. We know we can go to those stores and see that property.”

If an owner such as Parman finds his stolen property in secondhand stores, the police can put a hold on it so the owner has a chance to buy it back. Bach said it sounds unfair for the victim to have to purchase his own property, but she said restitution is supposed to be made when a thief is prosecuted. If there’s no criminal prosecution, the property owner can go to civil court to recoup his losses, she said.

She added that before current law was put into place, scam artists would walk into a pawn shop or secondhand store and claim jewelry as their own stolen property so they could obtain it for free. That wasn’t fair, either.

Dealba and Bach said the volume of goods moving through such stores are unbelievably high, which means stolen goods sometimes fall through the cracks.

“Some people have said it’s an untapped resource,” Dealba said. “We could make more arrests, but we don’t have the manpower.”

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