By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
An average of 100 burglaries are reported daily, and no more than 10 percent of residential burglaries are solved. Lately, thieves have been hitting places like Home Depot and the Price Club, stealing still-boxed products that they sell to pawnshops; the items rarely are traceable because of poor recordkeeping by manufacturers.
Adding to the difficulty is the blizzard of police tickets coming from pawnshop and secondhand dealers that must be entered into the computer to be checked against lists of stolen property. The department hopes to institute a computerized police-ticket reporting system into which pawnshops would enter each day's transactions, but Sergeant Jewell says such a program is probably a year away. For now the unit uses civilian volunteers to input the information; because of the time constraints, Jewell says, only about 70 percent of the tickets actually are input on a timely basis.
The items most often found to be stolen are guns, which, coincidentally, are the possessions pawnbrokers say people are most likely to redeem. "They'll lose their damn mother's ring, but they ain't gonna lose their gun," says the Jewel Box's Steve Reznik.
"If it really is a bad deal, 98 percent of the time people aren't going to hand you a valid ID," says Ken Moon, owner of Arizona Coin & Jewelry on West Camelback. But even if serial numbers turn up a match at the police department, it's not a sure-fire arrest: "They go to the individual. He could be innocent. He could have bought the thing at Park 'N' Swap. But if a guy brings in 100 CDs four days in a row, that's a pretty clear sign something's wrong."
Detectives are frustrated with a 1993 Ninth U.S. Circuit Court decision that grants pawnshops due process when stolen property is discovered in a pawnshop's possession. The ruling means that before property can be returned to its rightful owner, a pawnshop can request a hearing to determine its right to restitution, since it shelled out money for the item.
That ruling came into play recently in a case involving Arizona Gold Exchange, a pawnshop on East Bell Road. An employee of the fine jewelry department at Robinson's-May turned up regularly at Arizona Gold Exchange to sell unusually nice rings and watches. Shawn Dougherty, 23, had originally been hired by Robinson's-May as a Christmas temp. "He seemed very enthusiastic and wanted to stay on past the holidays," says Robinson's-May regional supervisor Marcy Kittinger, "so we kept him." What Dougherty did over the course of five months was sell diamond rings and watches worth about $95,000 on the retail market. Approximately $58,000 of it was recovered at Arizona Gold Exchange, which had paid Dougherty a little less than $4,000. One of Dougherty's fellow employees at Robinson's-May had actually watched him sell a ring to Arizona Gold Exchange and reported the incident to her supervisors. At first the pawnshop didn't want to give up the merchandise, Kittinger says, but the department store had kept such meticulous records that the pawnshop relented and did not request a hearing. Robinson's-May recovered the merchandise, and Dougherty was ordered to pay $14,000 in restitution--the wholesale cost of the missing $37,000 worth of jewelry.
Kittinger says the owner of the Arizona Gold Exchange actually was very nice about the whole thing; her anger is directed at a particular clerk at the pawnshop. "He knew damn well that those things were stolen," she says. "I think [owners] sometimes overlook things because they trust their employees."
Prosecutors won't discuss the case against Alex Gonzalez other than to say he is charged with one count each of theft and trafficking in stolen property, and could face up to nine years in prison.
Gonzalez says he could plead to a Class 6 felony charge, open-end, meaning he could take two to five years of probation with the whole thing removable from his record if he stays out of trouble. He's not going for it.
"I went from a position where I was making $52,000 a year--praise God--I mean, nobody in their right mind would just lay down and plea bargain," Gonzalez says. "We've really put our faith to work on this one. The Lord is not going to send me out there to be slaughtered like they think I will."
The odd thing is that Gonzalez and other Central Pawn employees did everything by the book. In fact, in their version of events, they went the extra mile, but got chastised for it.
The man who brought the unmatched Ping clubs into the store on January 11, Danny Dovilla, had done business in the past with Central Pawn. Last time around, though, he sold them a generator that turned out to be stolen. When his name was plugged into the store computer, the stolen property advisory flashed on the screen.
When pawnshops encounter a suspicious piece of property, detectives say, they are encouraged to contact police, the ideal situation being that police actually reach the store while the seller is still there. How that is accomplished, and whether police officially approve, is another matter.
Pawnbrokers say they'll proceed with a transaction as if nothing is wrong, or tell the seller that a clerk had to go to the bank for more money, or gee, the computers sure are slow today. Jachimek says someone is arrested in the store about once every two months; Reznik remembers a time a housekeeper was arrested when she came down on her lunch hour to pawn rings she'd taken from a house owned by a woman Reznik knew.