Cash-for-gold shops frustrate victims of theft

Print Print
Nico Savidge
Thursday, July 18, 2013
JANESVILLE—When a few pieces of her jewelry started coming up missing last week, Katherine Bolton called police.
It turned out a woman the Boltons hired to clean their Janesville home had been stealing rings, necklaces and bracelets over the past two months, according to court documents.
The woman, 30-year-old Anna M. Johnson of Janesville, was selling Bolton's jewelry at the Gold Spot, a cash-for-gold business on Milwaukee Street, authorities said.
By the time Bolton realized her ring was missing and Janesville police contacted the shop, though, they were told the jewelry already had been shipped to a processing facility and melted down.
Much of the jewelry was insured, Bolton's husband, Shaughn, said. But one piece wasn't: a charm bracelet, one of two the Boltons got for their teenage daughters. The bracelet had trinkets from their lives together.
“That's something you can't replace,” Bolton said.
The Coke-bottle charms from a trip to Atlanta, the new millennium charm from 2000, the Statue of Liberty charm—all of them melted down at a refinery somewhere.
That aspect of the cash-for-gold industry makes recovering jewelry particularly difficult for victims of thefts, Janesville police Detective Kyle Austin said.
Like pawn shops or jewelry stores, the businesses can be a target for thieves looking to sell stolen property, Austin said.
Unlike pawn shops or jewelry stores, though, the items don't sit on a shelf the way a stolen television might.
Instead, a piece of gold jewelry that might hold great sentimental value—such as the Boltons' charm bracelet—could be destroyed by the time people realize it's missing.
“People really want their jewelry back; they can buy new TVs,” Austin said. “That's where the tragedy occurs.”
Shops hold gold for one week
The cash-for-gold industry exploded with the price of gold over the past few years, according to a report in Bloomberg Businessweek.
Stores  essentially act as middlemen between refiners and customers.
Employees at Gems and Stems, a Milton Avenue jewelry store, make offers based on the quality and weight of the gold customers bring in, as well as the state of the market, owner Thomas Vickery said.
From there, Gems and Stems sells its gold to a refinery, which melts it down, Vickery said.
Cash-for-gold businesses are regulated like pawn shops and subject to the same anti-theft provisions.
Anyone looking to sell gold must provide identification and sign a form at the shop, Austin said. The businesses then photograph and document their purchases, recording any over $20 in an online database used by law enforcement, Austin said.
Once a purchase is recorded, state statutes require the company hold the jewelry for seven days (21 days if it isn't recorded), at which point it can be sold or sent to a refinery.
That's exactly what the Gold Spot did with the jewelry Johnson brought, store owner Mo Qattum said.
“We follow the guidelines that the city of Janesville has in place,” Qattum said. “We work side-by-side with law enforcement.”
Should period be longer?
If someone breaks into a house and steals a TV, Austin says, people tend to notice pretty quickly.
That jewelry is missing, however, can be less conspicuous.
“Sometimes (victims) don't realize that jewelry is missing until you go to wear it again,” Austin said.
If the homeowner doesn't have any reason to suspect items have been taken, it might be weeks before they realize one piece in particular is gone, Austin said.
In that time, a shop such as the Gold Spot can record the purchase, hold it for the mandatory seven days and sell it off to a refiner to be liquefied.
Shaughn Bolton says that's what happened to his family.
In three trips to the Gold Spot in late June and early July, Johnson sold nearly $17,000 worth of jewelry for less than $500 before the Boltons knew what was happening, police said.
Because the thefts can be less obvious and items are essentially destroyed when they are melted down, Austin said he would like to see a longer waiting period between shops buying jewelry and selling it to refiners.
“I wish there was more regulation as far as them holding onto jewelry,” Austin said.
But such a change would hurt businesses such as Gold Spot, Qattum said. Lengthening that period would make businesses wait longer between spending money and making it back and would leave them more vulnerable to swings in the commodity market, he said.
“That gold is money in my pocket,” Qattum said. “That's my operating cost, that's what's going to pay my bills.”
Bolton said the rules are letting shops enable criminals and leave victims unsatisfied.
“I'm pissed at her,” Bolton said of Johnson, who has been charged with theft in Rock County Court. “But for (Gold Spot) to let her get away with (it) is what really bothers me.”

Print Print