Bill addresses fencing of stolen valuables to support drug habits

Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre town and Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Windsor, worked on a new bill during an Interim Study Committee on the Regulation of Precious Metal Dealers meeting Friday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre town and Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Windsor, worked on a new bill during an Interim Study Committee on the Regulation of Precious Metal Dealers meeting Friday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Lawmakers are drafting a bill that would regulate precious metal transactions in an effort to add safeguards to a business plagued by the sale of stolen coins and jewelry to obtain money for drugs.

“There is a real crime-related problem, and we are trying to bring structure to it,” said Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden. “We have a series of witnesses that say there are active connections between this group and the drug trade.”

A study committee on the Regulation of Precious Metal Dealers reviewed proposed legislation to set standards and certification requirements for Vermont’s buyers of precious metals during a meeting Friday in Montpelier.

Precious metals as defined in the bill include gold, silver, platinum, palladium, jewelry or other items that are not antiques or coins. Under the bill, many dealers would be required to obtain a license and keep tight records on the purchase and sale of these items.

Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre Town, is chair of the committee. He said the bill will be a “moderate priority,” this coming legislative session.

“What’s driving it is the fact that there is a real problem out there, and there is something we can do about it even if we can’t solve the whole problem,” Koch said.

The bill aims to deter people from stealing precious metals to fund a drug habit, Koch said. However, some thieves might cross borders to sell in New Hampshire of New York in order to avoid the proposed regulatory hurdles in Vermont.

“So, yeah, we may be chasing people across the state’s lines, but I don’t think that is reason for us to do nothing,” he said. “That just says that other states need to get on board and attack those problem also because it’s widespread.”

Either way, regulation in Vermont is a good start to combat a national problem that Congress will not likely act on anytime soon, Koch said.

“I think there is a value in our doing it ourselves even if people do go across state lines, because it takes them a while to do that,” he said. “And many of these people who are involved in the theft are looking for a quick turnover because perhaps they are desperate for their next fix. And if they have to drive a few hours it might be discouraging for them.”

But the new rules and certification process drew criticism from some lawmakers because over-regulation might slow business to legal buyers.

“I think we are being particularly onerous,” said Sen. Alice Nitka, D-Windsor.

The draft bill requires dealers buying or selling more than $1,000 worth of precious metals to obtain a two-year certification priced at $200. The Office of Professional Regulation, a branch of the Secretary of State’s Office, will approve the application for certification that is designed to vet the dealers’ criminal history.

Nitka, vice chair of the committee, advocated for a dealer fee of $100.

The bill would also require dealers to document their purchases from sellers and sellers would be required to show a government-issued ID or pose for a photo.

In addition to a photograph of the items, the dealer would have to record all marks on the items, brand and model names, model and serial numbers, engravings, etchings, affiliations with any institution or organization, date, color, vintage or image represented. This information must be kept electronically for large dealers.

“That’s just good business,” Koch said, who defended the cataloging procedures.

“This is the point at which somebody is going to be able to catch what has been emailed as a stolen good,” he said. “I think we want to require that some time is being spent there and this is being itemized properly.”

However, similar to the certification fee, some committee members considered the detail of this cataloging requirement too burdensome. The documentation requirement must be completed by the day of the sale.

“What I want to avoid is that he can’t do anything until he cataloged all his items,” Baruth said, referencing the original requirement that cataloging must be completed before the transaction was final. “I think that would clog his business,” he said.

Some members doubted the dealers’ capacity to catalog the information at all.

“If you follow this, you have to have all kind of special equipment,” said Sen. Don Collins, D-Franklin, before reminding the committee of the larger picture. “What we are trying to do is reduce the number of illegal trades.”

In order to ease the burden on buyers, the committee changed the bill’s language to extend the items’ documentation time from the moment of sale to the day of the sale to prevent buyers from holding up sellers.

The bill would give law-violating dealers a one-time warning. Upon the second offense, such as by purchasing stolen goods or failure to document items, the dealer’s certification would be revoked.

“You get one chance to be a bad boy,” Koch said. “And on the second offense, that becomes disqualifying and the Secretary of State revokes the license.” (The term license was later change to certification.)

The committee is done with the bill, Koch said. It will remain in committee for now, including the House Judiciary Committee, where Koch serves as ranking member.

While the bill might be a moderate priority this session, Koch doesn’t see any significant hurdles.

“I think there is a lot of support for it — it’s bipartisan, it has no philosophical bounds,” he said.

Comments

  1. This is a LOAD. This is a CROCK.

    These people have an agenda they are not revealing which has as its object the closing down of all forms of economic/monetary freedom. And when it comes to drug money and drug dealing, the US Government itself
    is the biggest mobster in the world. These folks work for that outfit. And they don’t like competition.

    2LT Dennis Morrisseau USArmy [armor - Vietnam era] retired

    W Pawlet, VT

    • Paul Lorenzini :

      Well put, mobsters also require protection money, as much as you owe, according to the bill they send you, which must be paid, or else.

  2. I dearly hope this initiative fails. It is part of an overall pernicious scheme for the government to be able to track every financial transaction the people do.

    In the name of fighting terrorism, drug crime and pornography the US government has enacted or tried to enact many laws that record our every financial action.

    This needs to end. Everyday citizens should not be burdened by intrusive laws just because criminals use precious metals. Regular police work is very effective. There is no need for giving police and regulators more power.

  3. Mike Oltedal :

    This is one step forward , Major drug dealers that are caught should face attempted murder charges as well as corruption of a minor charges not only drug charges.
    More jail space and rehab centers must open up to care for the addicted users.
    Until we put our foot down and demand something more be done crime will continue !!!

  4. Kathy Nelson :

    What about the thieves who steal copper pipes and wire and sell to scrap metal dealers? Why don’t those dealer have to report on that? Scrap dealers all over the world have been involved in these kinds of deals. In England they have gangs of immigrants who steal the wiring off the highway lighting to get money for the copper at a scrap yard. I see this as a bigger problem then stolen jewelry.

  5. These thieves or crooked dealers drive straight to Albany and melt this stuff for scrap the next day. We can tell just by a few questions and studying the behavouir of the individual and then we’ll take a photo copy of their drivers license and a picture of their car and plate. You should have law enforcement concentrate stings on the few bad egg “WE BUY GOLD” dealers that have srung up since gold got so high. After 3 generations we have never had a single problem. We call the police on the few occasions we’ve seen suspicious characters trying to sell stuff. Our husband and wife bussines is tough enough that having to photograph and document each item that comes in will be an onerous burden on our already over taxed workload. 99.9% of the dealers in VT are hard working, honest, contributing members of the community.

  6. Look at the faces of these legislators above here.
    Would you buy a used car from these people?

  7. Ron Pulcer :

    While there may be some metal dealers (precious or scrap metal) who are dishonest, we need to focus on catching the drugged-up-thieves. These are the criminals, for the most part.

    If the State Police can have occasional checkpoints for driving under the influence of alcohol (or drugs) on/near holiday weekends (the SP setup checkpoints on Route 7 and Post Road in Rutland Town), then there could be a special unit of law enforcement who can show up at any time at any metal dealer and observe / check the metal sellers. If they see that someone who looks like they are plastered and incoherent and trying to sell metal, then they can question that seller, rather than making the dealer take photos and fill out paperwork.

    Even if they have only random spot checks, it will put both drug-thieves and metal dealers on notice that the State of Vermont will try to enforce this. If the drug-thieves want to cross over to NH or NY, then maybe the State Police can randomly patrol the roads that lead into NH and NY, looking for swerving cars (DUI of drugs). These drug-DUI folks are already driving … to the metal dealers.

    Yes Dennis, I understand your point about the CIA involved in drug smuggling, but let’s focus on the drug problems right here in Vermont and the robberies right here in Vermont.

    Folks might object to random spot checks by law enforcement (or observing drivers coming into entrance), but at least with this approach, the burden would not fall on the more honest metal dealers. The real culprits are the drug-thieves.

    This is a crime problem, more so than a business regulation problem, so focus on the real criminals (the drug-thieves).

    Yes, and there could be sting metal buyers run by law enforcement as well. They have undercover police buying drugs to lure in the drug dealers, so why not lure in the drug-thieves as well.

  8. Ron Pulcer :

    One more thing: Yes random spot checks by law enforcement or a special unit will cost money. But taxpayers and homeowners are already losing money due to robberies. Even if you have not been the victim of a robbery, someone in your town has, and it causes home insurance rates to rise.

    When I grew up near Metro Detroit, certain suburbs or neighborhoods had higher home insurance rates, based on crime stats in that area, or perceived crime probability based on proximity to City of Detroit.

    Unless Vermont has some statutes regarding home insurance rating, I would think that insurance companies take the crime stats as one factor to determine your insurance rates. The insurance companies are trying to mitigate their risk, so it would seem they would take home robbery stats by town into consideration.

    We are already paying for this, whether we are a victim or not. So let’s put money towards catching criminals, instead of burdening the more honest metal dealers.

    As a whole, I don’t know what percentage of metal dealers are honest versus dishonest. But if metal dealers know that a law enforcement officer can show up onsite to look for drugged up customers, then they will either clean up their act or move their business to another state. Turn on the lights and watch the cockroaches run!

  9. Jim Barrett :

    Drugs are the problem and not fencing, why not try to actually fix the problem. We constantly see tax payers ads that tell us how bad smoking cigs are when we have people killing others over dope and very little is said.We have a legislature that is so out of whack that they just about approved the use of pot for everything. To pass legislation that promotes smoking is unbelievable while we get stuck for anti smoking ads.

  10. Sam Beall :

    As someone who has had their home invaded, I support a measure that will make it more difficult to sell stolen jewelry and other items. The proposed legislation doesn’t really seem to do that though.

    There is currently a requiring shops to hold on to jewelry for 10 days, in order to give people who have had their items stolen the time to check local shops. This is consistently unenforced, and even if it is, the $100 fine is not enough to dissuade buyers from quickly moving goods that they probably know are stolen.

    I recommend people read the 7days piece discussing this problem. I agree that we ought to have the right to sell and trade goods as we see fit – but I also think I have the right to not have my home invaded by drug addicts looking for a score. In my opinion, we can have both realities if we were to just enforce the 10 day rule with a beefier fine.

    http://www.7dvt.com/2013are-precious-metal-dealers-cashing-vermont-s-drug-epidemic

  11. “If you follow this, you have to have all kind of special equipment…”

    Like pens and paper? Computers? What kind of business isn’t keeping records already?

  12. Jonathan Willson :

    “I think there is a value in our doing it ourselves even if people do go across state lines, because it takes them a while to do that,” he said. “And many of these people who are involved in the theft are looking for a quick turnover because perhaps they are desperate for their next fix. And if they have to drive a few hours it might be discouraging for them.”

    Well they took the time out of their day to steal the jewelry. What’s another couple hours to drive to Manchester, NH, sell the jewelry and buy some methadone?

    Is this really how the legislature is choosing to address drug related crime? What’s the potential impact here?

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