ON GOLDEN PAWN

DESPERATE PEOPLE WILL HOCK ALMOST ANYTHING FOR QUICK CASH. THAT'S WHY PAWNSHOPS ARE BUSTLING, AND THE COPS ARE BUSTING

You might not be surprised to learn that Alex Gonzalez is an unhappy camper, considering he has spent much of the last four years in pawnshops.

For the Arizona Pawnshop Association and its public-image-improvement efforts, the problem is that you might not be surprised; for Gonzalez, who has been fingerprinted and photographed recently with a court date looming, the situation is more threatening. Four years in pawnshops would be paradise compared to nine years in prison.

"How much you guys want for this?" The tattooed guy with the scraggly beard at Central Pawn in Phoenix holds up a file and a wrench, shuffling in his jeans and blue tank top, waiting for Gonzalez to answer.

Oh, if the transactions were all this simple--but then again, that's life: You can be a churchgoing individual and yes-sir your way to a $52,000 job as vice president of one of the city's biggest pawnshops and father a baby girl you and your wife thought you'd never have, and still the dice seem to roll someone else's way in the end.

"Oh, sir," Gonzalez says to him, "I don't know. Those fine items. . . . How about two bucks?"

Scraggly Guy turns, says to his female companion, you got two bucks? She pokes around in her wallet. "You just saved me a whole lot of work," the man tells Gonzalez.

"Oh, okay, how about five bucks?" Gonzalez banters.
Four and a half years ago, he chanced into pawnshop duty, liked it, enjoyed the people, found he had a knack for it. Even without dealing in adult video, a moneymaker he wouldn't go for because--well, to be honest, it offended his wife, and this was a family thing they had going--even without that, he brought money in, because customers liked him.

The couple in denim laugh, and the woman gives him one of those sly, tilted grins and meows, "A deal's a deal."

He smiles back, but inside, Alex Gonzalez is a tormented 30-year-old man. He's not the type to let on, not even when everyone around him is baffled over his indictment for trafficking in stolen property. Only Debra, his 24-year-old wife, whom he met eight years ago at the drive-through window of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, can measure his silence and know he's 20 different places in his thoughts.

The source of Gonzalez's misery: one set of Ping golf clubs, not even matching, and a seemingly weak felony case gone wild.

"I feel like Richard Kimble from The Fugitive," Gonzalez says.
His attorney, Larry Debus, calls the case "the most egregious abuse of the grand jury system" he's ever seen. Debra Gonzalez says, "If they knew Alex, they'd know how ridiculous it is."

And in a business whose stereotype calls for shady characters, Gonzalez would seem to be the unlikeliest of culprits: He's a polite sort, a deacon at his church with a reputation for helpfulness. Not long ago, he and his wife gave up their house to a struggling large family. Detectives like him. Originally hired by Central Pawn as a part-timer, he worked his way up to a manager's position and eventually to the main store as vice president of the company.

"I started seeing the other side of it," says Debra Gonzalez. "There are people who don't have credit, and they need money. Really good people. A lot of people with pride, they don't want to borrow from other people. There were people who you could see were really hungry, and they brought in stuff that wasn't worth anything, and Alex would give them money and then he would come home and say, 'Baby, don't get mad, but I gave this lady $20 today.'"

Bill Jachimek, president of Central Pawn, claims the whole situation was created by a vengeful former detective named James J. Finnerty. Last month, Jachimek filed a complaint with the Phoenix Police Department alleging that detectives on the Gonzalez case behaved inappropriately, particularly Finnerty.

That dirty-dealing stigma is usually reserved for pawnshops, where, rumor has it, Honesty was last seen hocking a ring for the bus ride home. This is the stereotype: Money above all.

But surprise--Phoenix police say scruples are rampant in the pawn business.

Pawnshops are the poor man's bank of the Nineties, a last resort that has blossomed as the middle class has shrunk, where desperation and deception and desire and joy go on display alongside the guns and TVs and precious stones. The informal, everyone's-invited nature of the party lures a criminal element. Sure, there are checks and balances, but crime still charms its way in.

That is what police say happened in the case of Alex Gonzalez. Those who were in the store at 4420 North Central when everything went down tell a different story. Many observers can't believe the case has gone this far, even in a business so competitive that detectives say people won't hesitate to turn each other in for wrongdoing.

Pawnbrokers are watching the case because they are all in the same rickety skiff when it comes to the image thing, and that sullied reputation just emboldens outsiders who reject Gonzalez's pleas of innocence. On the other hand, if he's guilty, it sure could be a drag for the public relations campaign.

I will assume the undertaking for my crown of Castille, and am ready to pawn my jewels to defray the expenses of it, if the funds in the treasure shall be found inadequate.

--Queen Isabella of Spain's response to Columbus' last appeal

So there you go. The very reason you are where you are right now is because of a pawn transaction. Otherwise, Columbus would never have been able to swing that extended cruise of his.

Pledging property for a quick loan is an old concept, and pawnbroking is sometimes called the second-oldest profession in the world. The Egyptians did it. The Romans did, too. So did the Greeks. In Italy, they called pawnshops monti di pieta, or mountains of mercy, and by the early 1700s, they were a staple of European business life. There and in Latin America, civic-minded organizations and governments have opened some nonprofit pawnshops as a public service.

In the United States, the industry has gone buff since the 1980s, even catapulting one thriving operation onto the New York Stock Exchange. Yuppie pawnshops like Trickle Down, Inc., outside Seattle, offer items such as espresso and fax machines, tanning beds and mountain bikes hocked to make payments on maxed-out gold cards and high-end mortgages. Someone tried a 24-hour pawnshop a couple of years ago in Scottsdale, but the store has since adopted more traditional hours of operation. In New Mexico, pawnshops play a role in the Navajo economy, especially for Indian elders, who aren't enamored of savings accounts and instead buy extra jewelry to pawn in times of need.

More impressive, though, is just how many of these places there are--a 1990 Swarthmore College study found that the U.S. pawnshop population had more than tripled, from 2,000 to nearly 7,000, since 1911; in about the same length of time, the number of British pawnshops dropped from around 3,000 to fewer than 200. A lot of the U.S. growth has gone from older, big cities to urban and rural areas in Southern and Central states. Texas has the most; Oklahoma and Idaho have the most per capita. One researcher estimates that pawnshops loaned out more than $1.7 billion nationwide in 1988.

There are 104 pawnshops in Arizona, about 80 of them members of the Arizona Pawnshop Association. Phoenix has 36 licensed pawn dealers, and 23 of those have obtained their current business licenses since 1992, which was just after the low point in Arizona's recession. Ten have sprouted this year alone.

Morrey Reznik's Jewel Box pawnshop is the granddaddy of them all, though he got his latest license in 1975, when he moved into his current location on Central Avenue downtown. Before that he had done business for 30 years out of a store near the seedy Deuce, an infamous downtown area offering the services of the world's oldest and second-oldest professions. That area is gone now, replaced by the more meaningful and less interesting Patriots Square.

Three golden balls are the symbol, the barber pole, of the pawn industry; it was the coat of arms designating the European House of Lombard, a wealthy family that operated pawnshops in the Middle Ages. But somewhere along the way pawnshops fell into disrepute, and now, Reznik jokes, the three golden balls might be more the equivalent of a red light than a barber pole. "Three balls," he says, "means 2-to-1 you'll get it back. That's an old line." In 1988, the Jewel Box was ordered to pay the Attorney General's Office $300,000 in fees and penalties for sticking customers with interest rates as high as 144 percent annually, or four times the amount allowed by state law at the time. But with a revived pawn detail unit and new state law that requires better monitoring of transactions, Phoenix police say 99 percent of pawnbroking operations are now in compliance. Reznik's shop is well-regarded, and from what he's heard of the Alex Gonzalez case, he thinks the police department is 100 percent wrong.

Arizona Pawnshop Association president Mark Gonshak, owner of the 27-year-old, four-store Trading Post pawn chain, says the APA can't get involved in individual cases like Gonzalez's, but what it can do is go out there and tell people about the role pawnshops play in society, "getting out the idea that pawnbrokers aren't bad people, that we're here to help and not rip people off. We're like Circle Ks and 7-Elevens. We serve a purpose in the community."

Shops donate items like musical instruments and appliances to elementary schools and churches victimized by burglary, he says. And pawnshops work with police to prevent crime and help catch lawbreakers.

"There's a need for pawnbrokers. A lot of people and a lot of politicians have an image of the old Rod Steiger movie," Gonshak says, alluding to The Pawnbroker, in which Steiger plays a venal character who bids two dollars on everything. "Over the years, that's played over and over again into people's minds. And what we try to tell people is, look, we're in the Nineties: We offer assistance to people that banks are not gonna talk to. Try going to a bank and telling them you're short on cash and you need a loan for $500, today. You can't do it. Or $1,000 for 30 days. Nobody can help you. We are filling a niche."

Or as Jack Daugherty, who has become a rich man as founder of Cash America Investments, which owns more than 100 pawnshops in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, told the New York Times: "I could take my customers and put them on a bus and drive them down to a bank and the bank would laugh at them. That's why they're my customers."

A scene from the 1965 film The Pawnbroker: A lanky, wild-eyed dude with uncombed hair leans into the pawnbroker's window, puts a portable radio on the counter. He's fidgeting like he's had eight cups of coffee with no bathroom break, bobbing, weaving: C'mon, uncle, make me an offer!

Steiger's character, Nazerman, sidles over, looks skeptically at the radio, which refuses to comply with the man's frantic knob turning.

Come on, baby, show the man your power!
I'll give you two dollars, Nazerman says.
Two dollars! the man shrieks. You bloodsucking cheat!
Just sign right here.
Okay.

A scene from the floor of Central Pawn Brokers in Phoenix, 1994: A lanky, wild-eyed dude with uncombed hair and a Tasmanian Devil tee shirt leans into the pawnbroker's window, puts a ministereo unit on the counter. He's fidgeting like he's had eight cups of coffee with no bathroom break, bobbing, weaving: Hey, can I pawn this thing?

Ed Sierakowski, whose business card already has the title of vice president on it now that Gonzalez says he has resigned his post, comes over, takes a look. "How much do you need?" he asks.

"Fifty dollars."
"What do you need it for?"
"My friend promised to take his daughter to the State Fair, and I had to pay the APS bill this week or they were gonna turn off our power, and we got caught short."

Sierakowski looks it over some more, says, "I can give you $40."
"Okay."
Sierakowski is store manager on Saturdays. He started as an electronics repairman at Central about two years ago. Earnestly helpful, he carries a Spiderman key chain and is a stickler for procedure, the kind of guy who'll always read the directions, just to make sure.

This is why it's easy to believe Sierakowski made the phone call he claims he made to police the day the troublesome Ping golf clubs came in. The cops don't remember the phone call, and say Gonzalez went ahead and kept the clubs when he had reason to believe they were stolen.

"The sheer volume of pieces in here and the very few that are on [police] hold attests to our attempts to keep everything valid," Sierakowski says. "One time, a lady brought in a TV/VCR combo in the box, and I says, 'Where did you get this?' She says, 'I got three of 'em. I just got married, and they were gifts.' I says, 'When did you get married?' She says, 'Recently.'" He pauses, to let you think about it, too. "And to my mind, 'recently' is not good enough." He refused to buy it.

The store, on Central Avenue across from Central High, is one of four pawnshops owned by Bill Jachimek. The four shops handle more than 100 transactions a day. When Jachimek, a bearlike guy most comfortable in a gray, Reebok LIFE IS SHORT PLAY HARD tee shirt, first happened into the pawnshop business, the stories people spun made things interesting. "Now I just run around and pay all the bills," he says. "The fun is gone."

In the main store, there are three windows at which to pawn items, then a single cashier's window to one side; beyond that, toward the back, are the storage rooms holding hundreds of items--TVs, computer equipment, guns, lawnmowers--awaiting redemption.

A pawn transaction works like this: You offer an item--say, that annoying karaoke machine you got for your birthday, or your 32-inch television--as collateral against a 90-day loan.

State law allows pawnshops to charge 6 percent per month for any loan up to 60 days, then 3 percent for the final month, pro-rated daily. So a $100 loan would require a minimum $112 payback for redemption of your item through the first 60 days, then up to $115 after that depending on how far into the 90 days you go.

Extensions can be worked out, if necessary, and pawnshop operators say it's in their interests to do so, because repeat customers represent about half a successful pawnshop's business. Besides, a strong neighborhood reputation is worth more in the long run than profit made off a single item.

The guy in the Tasmanian tee and the clerk, a cheery woman named Julie, share utility-bill woes while the guy stretches over the counter to see if the serial numbers are still on the stereo unit. But Julie has already noted that factoid. "Oh, yeah, we wouldn't take it unless it has the serial numbers," she tells him. She swings the printer around so he can sign the police slip attesting that the property is his.

Odds are the guy will be back for the stereo--the industry redemption rate is between 80 and 90 percent, and most people come back for their stuff within 45 days.

"I used to think, you can't trust pawnshops," says 26-year-old clerk Yvonne Adams, who has been with Central for about two years. "You know, you take your stuff in and they keep it. But that was before I started working in them. And it's really good. It helps you when you need it, you know, you need $20 just to get by for the week, to put gas in the car, you know what I'm saying?" A single mother, Adams pawns her own jewelry, and, in fact, has it pawned now: "That's why I don't have any on," she says. A moment later, she is helping a customer redeem a necklace, examining it as she removes it from the envelope: "Ooh, this is pretty," she says wistfully.

South on Central Avenue is the Jewel Box, where Morrey Reznik and his son Steve are the Sanford & Son of pawn, the likable curmudgeon and the hepcat with an edge, working out of a spacious, brightly lighted store flowing with merchandise: TVs, answering machines, turquoise bola ties, VCRs, bicycles, compact discs. When he strikes up conversations with strangers, Morrey waits for the inevitable question: So, what do you do for a living? When he says he's a pawnbroker, they kind of shrink back, as if they've stumbled onto some dark alley. Whereas if he says something about, say, being in the jewelry business, it's a different story.

"We are instant cash," he says. "That's the thing."
Hospital emergencies. Vacation funds. Maybe people are going on vacation and don't want to leave certain items in their home. Or someone gets up in the morning, his battery's dead and he needs to get to work. Somebody else gets arrested for having too many outstanding tickets, or maybe they just need the money to pay off other loans.

"There's one man comes in and gets $40,000 every four months [to pay off] bank loans," Reznik says. A lot of money, yes. Pawnshops are for everyone. What does he pawn? "Diamonds," Reznik says dreamily. "Beautiful diamonds."

But mostly his clients are people needing small amounts of money, people without credit cards or the time to wait for a bank to approve a loan. And since they don't make a whole lot of money, they don't have bank accounts. The Federal Reserve estimates that the number of American families without bank accounts has grown from 9 percent to 14 percent since 1978. Along with check-cashing services, which have grown from 2,000 to more than 5,000 nationally since 1988, pawnshops give these people a place to go. The result is a separate banking system for people whose lot it is to constantly scrape the corners of their wallets, whether through misfortune or mismanagement.

"People just need to borrow money, and we lend them money," says Jachimek. "That's our business."

Pawnshops are required to submit forms--police tickets--provided by the department, reporting every transaction involving property with a market value of $25 or more. The slips are then entered into the police department's computer system, and serial numbers are checked against data banks of stolen property. Because so many police slips are received by the department--about 300,000 were taken in last year--pawnshops are required to hold items purchased for resale for ten days before doing anything with them; Central's policy is to cushion that period with an extra day. If an item checks out as stolen, the department then places it on police hold, first orally, followed within two days by a written letter, to await police pickup.

It sounds simple, but there are so many variables--the department is notoriously behind in its computer entry, someone on vacation doesn't report property as stolen until well after it's gone through a pawnshop--that even the safeguards can't catch everything. Matters of timing add all sorts of judgment calls to the process.

Still, the rules are pretty clear as far as what forms to fill out, how long to hold purchased property and what information needs to be obtained from the seller. Complications arise when a pawnshop fears something might be stolen, and there are unwritten methods of handling those transactions that detectives approve of and reluctantly admit; other methods they outright deny ever signing off on.

However, nowhere in anyone's rulebook does it say what to do if someone suddenly freaks in midtransaction and bolts out of the store. Alex Gonzalez found that out.

Two years ago, the Phoenix Police Department's pawnshop unit was reorganized with Sergeant Marvin Jewell as its head; he was given four new detectives. Now working out of the North Resource Bureau on Union Hills Drive, the additional staff gave the unit monitoring power it hadn't had in seven years.

Phoenix's 36 pawnshops are evenly split between north and south boundaries, and Detective Bob Lockwood gets the southern half all to himself. The problem, in terms of workload, is that Lockwood's territory--everything south of Glendale Avenue, west of Central Avenue and everything south of Thomas Road, east of Central Avenue--also includes the majority of secondhand stores and swap meets, operations that also fall under pawn detail jurisdiction.

After he got his new assignment, Lockwood gave his pawnshops six months to get in line. His tight rein, he says, so angered one pawnbroker that the guy filed a complaint against him full of false allegations. He adds this as if to say, hey, these things happen.

He is not at liberty to discuss, however, either Bill Jachimek's allegations concerning pawn detectives or the case involving Alex Gonzalez because an in-house investigation is being conducted. "I like him," Lockwood says of Gonzalez, who has spoken highly of the detective, "but that's all that I can say."

He estimates conservatively that 40 percent of all pawnshop merchandise is stolen property; however, only 1 to 3 percent is actually determined to be stolen.

"The problem," says Sergeant Mike Torrez, a police spokesman, "is that people don't put any identifying marks on their stuff or get the serial numbers. There wouldn't be so many pawnshops in the Valley making such a good business at it if people did that."

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.

Jachimek says he has sometimes been told to go ahead and take in stolen property for police pickup, a claim echoed by Reznik of the Jewel Box: "A lot of times they tell us, 'Go ahead, buy it if you want. . . . You might lose it, but help get it off the street.' Because if we don't buy it, the guy's gonna go sell it out on the streets . . . hopefully the victim will reimburse us."

"Absolutely not," says Sergeant Jewell to that claim. "No. Not to my knowledge has that ever been done, nor is it the policy of the police department to ask them. It puts them in a precarious position."

Detective Lockwood says, "I tell all my pawnshops, 'If you think an item is stolen, stay away from it. You're a businessman, and I can't make you my agent.'" The problem is that you can't know whether a seller actually stole the property. But with the information about Dovilla's former sale flashing on the screen, it seemed reasonable to think that this particular set of Pings might be stolen, too, and they might be worth checking on.

Ed Sierakowski says he called detectives to do just that, and Gonzalez remembers that Sierakowski was excited about the whole thing, thinking he was catching a criminal. Detectives say they don't remember Sierakowski's call. It doesn't matter: Since the clubs had been stolen that morning, they were nowhere near being entered into the stolen-property logs--the owner didn't even know they were gone.

Sergeant Jewell says that situation then becomes a little touchy. If a pawnshop dealer decides to take the property and fill out the necessary paperwork, he says, they haven't really done anything wrong, but they might end up losing the property if it turns up stolen.

Which is exactly what happened to Central Pawn. The only thing is, Alex Gonzalez got slapped with a couple of felony charges on top of it.

One of the things Central employees say they did to keep Dovilla clueless to the fact they were contacting police was to ink out the words "DO NOT BUY/STOLEN PROPERTY" that appeared on the police ticket that printed out during the transaction. They say they did this so Dovilla wouldn't know they suspected him when he signed the ticket attesting to his ownership of the clubs. But sometime during the transaction, Dovilla freaked out and ran from the store, leaving the clubs and the police ticket noting the $160 agreed-on price behind. No money changed hands.

"The next thing I remember was they were on hold," says former Central Pawn office manager Nicole Manns. "There was a lot of confusion, we didn't know what to do with them, so they [Alex and Ed] finally decided to leave them behind the counter on police hold. Then the police came and questioned Ed and Alex, and they said they were gonna charge Alex with trafficking, and it's like, what?

"I know Alex pretty well. He's a decent, honest Christian man with a family. He worked his way up. I feel sorry for him." When Dovilla ran out of the store, Central Pawn went ahead and sent in the inked-up police ticket reporting the purchase. The ticket caught the eye of civilian volunteer Joseph Fisher, the department's 1993 volunteer of the year. He reported it to detectives as suspicious.

"If we send in a police report with a black mark on it," Gonzalez says, "it's going to stick out like a sore thumb. Why would we do that if we were trying to hide something?"

Armed with the ink-blotted ticket, detective James J. Finnerty went to the store on January 19. When he found a handmade "Police Hold" tag on the clubs, Gonzalez says, he blew up and asked what the clubs were doing on hold when no officer had ordered it.

"Ed and I, we just looked at each other," Gonzalez says. "We thought we were doing the right thing."

They say Finnerty removed the tag himself. Finnerty's police report, on the other hand, doesn't mention any such tag at all.

Incredibly, Dovilla, who could not be reached for comment, is not being charged with any crime and is listed as a witness against Gonzalez.

After Gonzalez was charged, Jachimek says he had Gonzalez and Sierakowski take polygraph tests about the episode and Detective Finnerty's role; both passed easily, although the results aren't admissible in court. He says he furnished Sergeant Jewell with the results. That was in mid-February, and it was about that time that Central Pawn was taken off Detective Finnerty's beat, although no one in the department will say why.

Five months later, Finnerty retired early by applying a year of military duty to time spent on the force. "There was no pressure, no nothing," says Jewell. "He just wanted to go into business for himself."

On October 9, Jachimek filed his complaint with the department. In it, he alleges that Finnerty did not follow police procedure when told about the possibility the clubs were stolen; that he did so in order to turn the tables on Central Pawn employees; that he destroyed evidence by removing the "Police Hold" tag placed by Gonzalez on the clubs; and that he acted out of revenge (Jachimek had taken up for a time with Robin Hammond, the former girlfriend of a parking-lot owner who employed the detective when he was off-duty).

The case went before a grand jury in June, and based on what he's seen, Gonzalez's attorney, Larry Debus, says he is attempting to have Finnerty's grand jury testimony made public. "There's no evidence [against Alex]," he says. "What this cop really wanted to do was nail the owner, and so he goes after this guy."

Hammond, the woman in the middle who says she has children by both Jachimek and Detective Finnerty's part-time employer, declined to comment.

Finnerty, because of the ongoing investigation, won't comment.
"I don't know how these cops can look themselves in the mirror," Gonzalez says. "They're gonna have to shave with their eyes closed."

Jachimek says, "If I thought Alex had done one thing wrong, I would have told him, plea bargain, put this thing behind you and go on with your life. But there's really no reason Alex should have gotten charged with anything. The only reason I've talked to anyone and complained after eight years in the business is because I'd rather wash dishes at a restaurant than be in fear of doing the right thing."

The case goes to trial on November 28, two days before Gonzalez's daughter, Sierra, will celebrate her first birthday.

The pawnshop industry continues to grow. Cash America, Jack Daugherty's chain of shops sprawling across the South, netted $11 million in 1991. The clientele is expanding, and so are those who want a piece of the action.

"A lot of people try this business and a lot of people fail," says Mark Gonshak of the Arizona Pawn Association. "They think people will just flood in the doors and sell their stuff to you, and it doesn't happen. . . . They don't capitalize for a couple of years, and then they just fold."

Still, many others are successful, particularly if you know the business and your competition. Pawnshops are blossoming, particularly in states with high interest rates, such as Texas, where the annual allowable rate is 240 percent, compared to Arizona's 42 percent. Just the same, it's a profitable, territorial business, and Bill Jachimek himself has plans to open a fifth store once the Gonzalez case and his complaint against the police department are resolved.

Nine other pawnshops opened this year in Phoenix, ready to try their hand at the trade.

One of them opened late this summer and belongs to a retired Phoenix police detective by the name of James J. Finnerty.

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