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Onondaga County legislature hopes to close pawn shop loophole

Ellen Abbott

It'll be easier for police to recover stolen goods from pawn shops and second-hand stores throughout Onondaga County, if a law approved by the county legislature goes into effect. The legislation is aimed at closing a loophole that pushes criminals outside Syracuse city limits to sell stolen goods.

Jean Marie Westlake lives in Syracuse's Sedgewick neighborhood. She says she's the face of this law, after someone stole all the gold she owned, and then sold it to a second-hand dealer in Liverpool, who didn't have to cooperate with police because he was outside the jurisdiction of a city law that forces shop owners to keep better track of merchandise.

"There were no checks, there were no balances, the person presented I.D., walked away with cash, and my stuff is gone forever," said Westlake.

Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon says this law is aimed at those shops that deal in stolen goods.

"Those are the people we need to stop; the people that don't want to be regulated, the people who are working with criminals. And that's what this legislation does," said McMahon.
Onondaga County Legislator Danny Liedke explains how the new legislation will help:

"It makes the dealers hang on to merchandise for seven days, so that gives the authorities the opportunity to investigate the crime, and the likelihood the merchandise is still there and not been sold, and also the record of who sold them the merchandise, so they have the opportunity to investigate the crime," said Liedke.

Second-hand shop owners are against the legislation. Dave Cooper of the Upstate Coin and Gold Shop in Fayetteville says he's only had one problematic sale out of 35,000.

"So that's 99.97 percent problem free, honest transactions. And for .03 percent problems, you're sacrificing all the good transactions of good people and their privacy," said Cooper.

Cooper also says his customers shouldn't have to turn over personal information.

"Handing over your name, the amount that you sold, what you sold, your address, so it becomes public information under FOIL, Freedom of Information Law. Anybody can access this, including criminals. You don't have any privacy left," said Cooper.

Lawmakers admit it's unclear if information from these transactions would be able to be accessed by the public, because there is no legal precedent.

Similar legislation was vetoed by County Executive Joanie Mahoney three years ago. Legislators say they've addressed the concerns she had in this current law.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.