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Pawn shop owners say ordinance will ruin them

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque city councilors faced a backlash Monday night over sweeping amendments proposed for the Pawnbrokers Ordinance that many pawn shop owners said would decimate their businesses and leave many of their patrons in untenable situations.

“This bill could put me and my employees out of business,”said Michael Steinberg, owner of Osuna Pawn and president of the Albuquerque Pawnbrokers Association. “We are a very small business. We have no fancy lawyers to help us. … I feel we are being treated as the bad guys.”

But Sgt. Will Dorian, with the Albuquerque Police Department’s Organized Crime Unit, argued that the ordinance is needed because of the rash of property crimes that are occurring and because bad actors are using pawn shops to convert stolen items into cash.

“The Albuquerque Police Department supports this bill,” he said.

Several councilors raised concerns about the proposed ordinance. Councilor Don Harris argued that the ordinance would simply result in bad guys taking items elsewhere, and it would force pawn shops to relocate out of city limits.

Councilor Brad Winter said the measure needs significant work, and he made a motion to send it back to the Finance and Government Operations Committee, which the full council approved.

If adopted as currently written, the revamped ordinance would require pawn shop owners to get thumbprints and copies of IDs from those bringing in an item and it would require pawn shops to photograph each item they receive.

Pawn shops also wouldn’t be allowed to provide immediate cash payments for any item brought in. Instead, they would be required to wait at least three days, at which point they would have to mail a check to the address provided. Under the proposal, the ordinance would also apply to all businesses that purchase or receive precious metals or gems from the public.

The measure, which seeks to clamp down on stolen items being sold to pawn shops and other businesses, is sponsored by Councilor Diane Gibson.

“This bill is by no means finished,” Gibson said. She said she wants to work with pawnbrokers on the measure.

Chris Melendrez, a senior policy analyst for the council and an attorney, said the revamped ordinance was developed in collaboration with the Albuquerque Police Department and the city’s legal department. He said the measure needs to be tweaked to make it clear that the ordinance wouldn’t apply to jewelry stores or coin-buying businesses.

Steinberg said he agrees that Albuquerque has a serious crime problem. But he argued that there are only 18 pawn shops in Albuquerque, and of the 250,000 items taken to 16 pawn shops he has information on, the Albuquerque Police Department has only taken 150 items.

“Why pick on us? We are already regulated highly,” he said. “… Our stores pay taxes, have employees, pay rent and property taxes like anyone else. There are only 18 of us. We are not the scourge of Albuquerque.”

Roger Finzel, a retired criminal defense attorney, lifelong Democrat and pawn shop patron, also criticized the ordinance.

“It will wipe out pawn broker businesses in the city and it will deny the opportunity for people to get a short-term loan,” he said. “I’m speaking about the young mother who isn’t getting a living wage … (and) goes into a pawn shop to pawn her radio because she needs to buy diapers. That young mother cannot wait three days to change her child’s diapers.” He said that’s just one of the many things that wrong with the ordinance being proposed.

Finzel argued that 85 to 90 percent of items pawned are redeemed.

“Most people come here for a short-term loan,” he said, adding that many of them don’t have credit cards, they can’t go to a bank, and they don’t want to go to a payday loan type of business because of the exorbitant interest rates charged.

“People who depend on pawn shops for small loans … those people are going to be wiped out,” he said. “They won’t be able to get a small loan.”

Tess Conti, with Rocky Mountain Gold and Silver Exchange, had similar concerns, saying some of her clients “are the poorest people in this city.”

“They come in and will literally sell $10 of gold or silver to put gas in their car,” she said. “They can’t wait three days to have checks mailed to them. It would devastate our businesses.”

Peter Bilan, owner of Albuquerque Coins, said there are times when he purchases an entire collection made up of thousands of coins. Photographing each one isn’t feasible, he said. He also predicted that his patrons would walk if he had to mail them checks three days after they brought in their items. Bilan said those individuals would likely go to Craigslist or a similar service, increasing the possibility that they would get mugged.

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