February 27, 2014
If you were going to try and unload a fortune in stolen coins, would you take them to the world's most famous pawn shop? That's allegedly what a local thief did after stealing $40,000 worth from a home.
The suspect sold the coins to Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, the home of television's hit show "Pawn Stars." But what happened next is raising questions about whether Nevada's pawn shop laws have a big loophole.
Nevada pawn shops are highly regulated and subject to pretty strict rules about how to handle merchandise, stolen or otherwise. The overwhelming success of the "Pawn Stars" television show has further boosted the image of a once seedy industry, and police tell the I-Team that thieves now tend to avoid pawn shops because the ones in Las Vegas tend to make it too tough to unload stolen stuff.
But there is a catch, one particular type of merchandise is specifically exempted from the laws that govern pawn shops. This loophole led one thief right to the doorstep of the best known pawn shop on the planet.
Everyday, 1,000 or more people line up to shop and snoop inside the world's best known pawn shop. Gold and Silver Pawn Shop on Las Vegas Boulevard is the hub of a multi-million dollar empire fueled by the television show that's a hit worldwide. Television has turned the pawn stars into millionaires, but it's still a working pawn store, and like all Nevada pawn shops, is always on the alert for stolen merchandise. The stars even talk about that in their show.
Nonetheless, Gold and Silver Pawn was the hock shop of choice for Jennifer Beckman who, police say, stole a $40,000 coin collection from a home in the northwest valley. The coins belong to Jennifer's uncle, Dave Walters, who says he had them hidden in the house. Walters gave the I-Team an on-camera interview about the crime, but later said we couldn't use it.
He said his gold and silver coins were of the highest quality and untouched by human hands. They had been purchased over the years for his children and had great sentimental and financial value.
Beckman, his niece, had stayed at the house for one day in Nov. 2013, and while there,court documents allege, she stole seven of the coins and took them to Gold and Silver Pawn Shop where she got more than $2,600 for them.
Walters didn't know about the theft until days later, over the Thanksgiving holiday, when there was a break-in at the home and the rest of the coin collection was stolen. He says he knew immediately who had done it. Within two hours of that theft, police say, Beckman and her boyfriend showed up in a taxi at the pawn shop, and sold 25 gold and silver coins for a total of $9,300 dollars. She came back a few days later and sold the remaining coins for a few hundred bucks.
"The law requires that pawn stores report all items pawned," said Greg Watkins, a Metro robbery detective.
He says the shop followed the law by reporting the purchase of the coins into a database. Within days, Watkins put together the case against Beckman that led to charges of felony burglary and grand larceny. Just four days after the break-in, Walters says Watkins called him with the good news that he would be getting his coins back. An hour or so later, Walters got another call informing him the coins were no longer at the shop. They were gone. He was crushed. And the detective?
"I was set back, yes."
Nevada pawn shops are highly regulated. Every piece of merchandise gets reported into a database, every customer has to present identification and pawn shops are required to hold all items for 30 to 90 days. Thieves know it.
"These people know they can't come to these places without being reported. They have to go to Craigslist or eBay or swap meets that don't have our reporting requirements," said Michael Mack, the owner of Max Pawn.
Walters says he was told by Metro the missing coins had been melted down as bullion right after they were purchased.
George Knapp: "They told you they melted them down?"
Detective Greg Watkins: "They go into a bin and they either get melted down or sent to a coins distributor."
Walters says he simply does not believe his coins were tossed into a bin or melted down for the simple reason that they are worth four to five times as much as their metal value.
In an email to KLAS-TV, he called it the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard. If police had recovered the coins, he notes, the pawn shop would have been out the ($12,000) it paid for them. Walters points out that Gold and Silver Pawn should know the value of his coins because the store has cases filled with similar or lesser coins for sale and the owner sells them online as well.
Metro says there is an exception in Nevada law. The only thing which pawn shops are not required to hold for 30 or more days is coins. Gold and Silver Pawn had the legal right to melt or sell the coins.
"It's within the parameters of the law." Watkins said. "Whether it's a loophole or not, is not up to me. It's how the law is written."
Persons familiar with the coin trade say that while Walters might think his coins were worth $40,000 or even $50,000 dollars, different grades are assigned by different graders and that the true value might have been much less.
A spokesperson for Gold and Silver Pawn, Laura Herlovich told the I-Team that the shop has been 100 percent compliant with all regulations and has assisted Metro in investigating criminal activity on identifiable items. She added, the owner, Rick Harrison, takes pride in honest and fair dealings. They further dispute the dates of the events.
Police stopped short of saying the loophole that exempts coins from being held for 30 days might be something the legislature should consider.