Police: Pawnshop rule tough on crime

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Sunday, October 2, 2011
— The first time Nick Saunders broke into his grandma’s neighbor’s house, he used a credit card to unlock the front door.

That was June 6.

Saunders, 30, of 106 S. Chatham St., Janesville, would break into the same home in the 900 block of Walker Street four times between June and September, according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in Rock County Court.

In a little more than 14 weeks, Saunders on eight occasions broke into four Janesville homes and stole three handguns, more than 300 DVDs, $750 in cash, nail guns, video gaming systems, several televisions, laptop computers and a pile of small electronics.

Police say Saunders’ case illustrates how a new city ordinance helps solve burglaries. The case also shows the variety of ways criminals dispose of stolen goods.

Where go the goods?

Every day is different when it comes to unloading stolen merchandise, if Saunders’ confession to police is typical of people who steal to support heroin addictions.

Saunders sold the guns to a person he knows in Beloit, according to the complaint.

He sold the roofing guns in Rockford, Ill., for $150.

He heaped stolen items into a garbage bag and hid the bag under a bush in the backyard. He called his heroin dealer, who drove from Beloit, and the two loaded stolen electronics into the dealer’s car. In exchange, Saunders got 3 grams of heroin, according to the complaint.

Later that week, Saunders entered one of the same homes through a different window and stole a laptop computer, which he threw out the window onto Interstate 90/39 when he figured out it was password protected.

From a Chatham Street home he took a camera and jewelry. He gave the camera to his mom and on Sept. 10 pawned the jewelry at the Coin Shop, 411 W. Milwaukee St., Janesville, according to the complaint.

Four days later, he reported to jail to serve 90 days after failing to report to jail for 2009 charges of second-offense intoxicated driving and causing injury while intoxicated driving.

Meanwhile, a Janesville police investigator was searching an online database for pictures matching the things stolen from the Janesville homes.

Since February, a city ordinance has required Janesville stores that trade cash for used goods to report most sales to police. Many items must be photographed, and all transactions over $20 must be entered into a statewide database.

A Janesville officer found pictures of rings that matched the descriptions of some stolen from the Chatham Street home. From the Coin Shop’s records, investigators identified Saunders and on Sept. 23 arrested him at the Rock County Jail.

He is charged with eight counts of burglary, three counts of felony theft and four counts of theft.

The burden of proof

Reported burglaries keep Janesville investigators busy, Lt. Tim Hiers said.

“A week doesn’t go by we’re not reading at least one report classified as burglary,” Hiers said.

What burglars do with stolen goods is “kind of a hodge podge,” Hiers said.

Like Saunders, people trade stolen merchandise for drugs, Hiers said. Many sell stolen items through the Internet on Craigslist or eBay.

Sometimes they throw away stolen goods, and in rare cases they keep them, Hiers said.

One place police can confidently track sales is pawnshops, he said.

“What we know for sure is that some property that’s taken goes to the pawnshop and gets pawned off that way,” Hiers said. “Why? Because we’ve recovered stolen property.”

Rich Erdman, owner of the Coin Shop, said the police aren’t recovering enough stolen property to justify the burden the ordinance puts on pawnshop owners and other buyers of used merchandise.

It’s not just the labor of entering data that’s burdensome, Erdman said. Used goods retailers have to hold on to merchandise for weeks before they can sell it. That ties up a lot of inventory, Erdman said.

It’s especially a burden on precious metal buyers, who can lose money if gold or silver prices drop during the mandated holding period, he said.

Police would be better off building good relationships with pawnshop owners rather than demanding the online record system, Erdman said. The ordinance has made pawnshop owners dislike dealing with police and even not want to do business, he said.

Owners of Janesville’s other two pawnshops declined to talk to the Gazette for this story.

Since February, police have used the electronic system twice to find stolen merchandise in his store, Erdman said. Police could find much more by passing out lists of stolen goods, he said.

“The way to recover property is not by what we’re buying but what comes in the door,” Erdman said. “I buy a fraction of what comes in the door.”

Erdman admits one advantage in the computerized system.

“The cops aren’t hanging around scaring everybody away,” Erdman said.

Last updated: 6:49 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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