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Seventy-five percent of swap shops didn't follow city guidelines

By Rick McCrabb

July 7, 2013

MIDDLETOWN – One of four Middletown swap shops that purchased items from undercover police officers followed the city's ordinance policy that is aimed at regulating the businesses, said Lt. Scott Reeve of the Middletown Division of Police.

"The problem remains," he said of the violations. "This shows that."

During five days last month, the police conducted compliance checks on local swap and second-hand shops, mainly on Central Avenue in downtown. Reeve said undercover police offered to sell items from the department's property room to 11 second-hand and swap shops. Four of them purchased items, four said they weren't interested in the items because they were broken or had missing parts and three of the shops said they didn't have a license to purchase items.

Gold Rush, 1959 Central Ave., was the only shop that purchased items that complied with the city's ordinance, Reeve said. The store reported the purchase of three DVDs to Leads Online and held the items for at least 72 hours, he said.

Reeve said compliance checks are conducted at least once a year, and this one was scheduled earlier than expected after a swap shop owner complained that other Middletown owners weren't following the ordinances.

The city has a 16-page ordinance that second-hand and swap shop owners must follow. The ordinance was written several years ago after the city saw a sharp increase in the number of shops opening in the city, and police noticed that a large number of stolen items were being sold in these shops.

Before a shop can operate, the owner must purchase a license from the city for $200. The license must be renewed every January at no additional cost. The city also performs background checks on every employee, and every employee must wear an ID badge issued by the police department.

All owners must keep accurate daily records of all transactions, including brand names, dates, serial numbers, model numbers, the amount of the purchase and the name, address, age, and license number of the person who sold the item.

They also must retain all purchases for at least 72 hours before offering them for sale. If it's found that a dealer purchased a stolen item, they must sell it back to the rightful owner for the same price it was purchased.

Dealers must also operate a functional video surveillance system that tapes all transactions in the business. The tapes must be kept for at least 10 days.

Items are not to be purchased between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Anyone who violates any ordinance will be guilty of a third-degree misdemeanor for the first offense and guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor for subsequent violations occurring with five years. Their license will be suspended for at least 60 days and no more than 180 days.

On June 17, an officer went into D&D Swap Shop, 1209 Central Ave., and tried to sell an item without an identification. He was told they couldn't buy from someone who didn't have an ID.

Later that day, another officer returned to the swap shop, and with ID, sold four DVDs — Crank, Untouchables, Napoleon Dynamite and Night of 1,000 Cats — for $2. Inside the cases, the police had marked the initials, "MT."

Police checked Leads Online, which tracks every purchase the shops make, the next day and the purchase had not been reported. Another officer went into the store and purchased the four DVDs, all marked with the initials, for $7. Police checked on June 19 and June 20 and the purchase had not been reported to Leads Online.

On June 20, police contacted the shop's owner Daniel Blankenship, 46, of Middletown, and asked for the records relating to the purchase of DVDs. He provided documentation, and he was asked to put a hold on the purchase. He told police he doesn't hold DVDs.

He was found to be in violation of the following: records of transactions, reporting transactions to police, retaining articles for not less than 72 hours, all third-degree misdemeanors.

Police sold four movies for $1 to Yousef Shahwan, 18, at Central Electronics and Repairs, 1718 Central Ave., on June 21. For the next two days, police checked Leads Online and found the purchase had not been reported. On June 20, police stopped by and were told by Whitney Stepp, 22, the owner, that they didn't have the property and no transactions took place on June 17. The next day, police told the owner that they purchased from an undercover officer and they didn't report the purchase or properly hold the items purchased. They couldn't produce a video of the purchase.

They were found in violation of records of transactions: failure to keep accurate daily records, reporting transactions to police and maintain functional video surveillance system, all third-degree misdemeanors.

Stepp said her ordinance packet she received from the police department didn't include the page about video taping every purchase. The charge of not videotaping was dropped.

Stepp said she believes the police are "making rules as they go," and she called the investigation "very unprofessional." She was upset that undercover police officers stopped by her business several times, trying to "trap" the store into buying the items.

"This hurts business," she said. "They are asking a lot of us."

On June 17, an undercover officer sold a Samsung camera to Justin Miller at Cash for Anything, 1700 Central Ave. Police checked the next two days and the camera hadn't been listed on Leads Online. The purchase wasn't recorded and the store's owner, Jason Gibbs, was cited for a misdemeanor.

Police also attempted to sell items at Gamestop, 2930 Towne Blvd., We Buy Gold, 3443 Dixie Highway, the Treasure Chest, 1380 Central Ave., and Richie's Pawn Shop, 1150 Central Ave. At all four locations, police were told the stores weren't interested in anything for sale.

Police were told at three NYC locations that they didn't have a license to buy items.


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