Jewelry stores violate law on purchasing metals

January 13, 2009|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,julie.scharper@baltsun.com

A police sweep of Anne Arundel jewelry stores found that 18 had violated laws designed to prevent the sale of stolen jewelry - including a downtown Annapolis shop owned by a state delegate.

As part of an effort to curtail a rise in property crimes in the county, undercover officers found that stores did not ask for identification before purchasing precious metals, resold them before an 18-day waiting period had passed and did not report sales to police as required by law. Several stores that are not licensed to buy jewelry also purchased items from the officers.

"These laws help the Police Department detect items that could be stolen," police spokesman Justin Mulcahy said. "This is so that if someone has a precious heirloom that gets stolen, it doesn't get melted down."

The theft of metal - in everything from catalytic converters to fine jewelry - is on the rise in the county; police attribute the trend to a global rise in metal prices. During the past few months, detectives have questioned scrap dealers, conducted surveillance in areas at risk for catalytic converter thefts and worked with police in other jurisdictions to crack down on metal thieves.

Officers sent jewelry dealers and pawnbrokers a letter apprising them of state laws regarding metal sales before beginning the undercover sting operation. Police returned with warrants to stores suspected of violating metal laws.

Officers seized more than 200 items worth $100,000 from B&A Pawnbrokers in Glen Burnie and are investigating whether employees knowingly received stolen property. The store did not have a pawnbroker's license or a secondhand precious metal dealer's license, but it had been accepting pawned items, including jewelry, police said.

The other stores face less serious allegations, and no criminal charges have been filed. In the case of Del. Ron George's shop on Main Street, George failed to ask for identification from an undercover officer and did not fill out the necessary paperwork after the sale, police said.

George said he obtained a secondhand metal dealer's license only a few months ago to help elderly customers who wanted to sell jewelry. He said he almost never accepts sales from unknown people at his upscale shop, but that he felt sorry for the undercover officer. The officer "had an honest face" and seemed like he needed money for the holidays, so George bought a low-quality gold necklace from him for $60.

The delegate said he forgot to fill out required forms after the man left. "In hindsight, 'Gosh darn it, Ron - why didn't you fill out the darn paperwork?' " he said.

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