Theft victim angered by pawn shop policy

By Leeanna Ellis

September 28, 2018

Justin Wolsmann was at a loss when he found his garage in Kennard had been rifled through.

“It was so strange. I still don’t understand it,” he said.

Wolsmann and his family were preparing for an outing on Sept. 3 when he found he had accidentally left the garage door open the night before. He noticed a cabinet door was open and some items were on the floor.

“As we started looking around, we started noticing some things were missing,” he said.

Those items included a box of cordless power tools and a new bicycle worth about $500.

Wolsmann immediately reported the theft to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. It was only then he learned there had been a string of thefts reported.

Investigators were able to track Wolsmann’s stolen bicycle through its serial number. It was located at a pawn shop in Council Bluffs, Iowa. That discovery led detectives to the stolen power tools, which Wolsmann identified, at a pawn shop in Omaha.

But when Wolsmann went to retrieve his items, he felt like he was victimized again when he was told he had to purchase the items from the pawn shops in the amount the pawn shops paid for them.

“I was totally taken aback by that,” he said. “To me, that is wrong. That’s dead wrong. They are in possession of stolen property.”

That policy is standard for pawn shops, said Paul Hamer, who has owned Blair Pawn for 11 years. Victims can ask for restitution if or when a suspect is convicted. But if a suspect isn’t caught or found not guilty, the victim is out that money.

“That should not be my burden,” Wolsmann said. “The pawn shop paid that person. The deal was made between the pawn broker and the person selling the stolen goods, not me. Those items were taken from me illegally.”

Wolsmann expressed his anger at the situation with letters to both the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office and Gov. Pete Ricketts. He believes legislation should be brought forth to put the burden on the pawn shops.

“In my opinion and what I propose, they buy at their own risk,” he said. “If they buy stolen property, they should pursue the bad guy to get the money back. That’s the guy they gave the money to.”

Wolsmann believes if a pawn shop purchases stolen items, it should return those items at no cost to the victim.

Hamer understands both sides of the situation. He’s also been a victim of theft and has applied for restitution from the person convicted of the crime.

But there are regulations in place to help catch thieves, Hamer said. He tries to work with police when they make him aware of possible stolen items that could come into his store.

“There are times where I buy items just to get them back to the people because the police have tipped me off,” he said.

When a person pawns an item to a pawn shop, they must fill out documentation, including their name, address, identification and provide a fingerprint. With that information, police can pursue the suspects.

“That’s happened on occasion, too,” Hamer said. “That works toward the advantage of the (property) owner.”

LeadsOnline, a database which pawn shops across the nation use, can also help victims find their items if the serial numbers are known.

Wolsmann has purchased his tools back for $60. He’s waiting for the release to purchase his bicycle for $50 and plans to ask for restitution when the suspect is caught and convicted.

“The legal system is slow, but it seems pretty fair if you look at the entire picture,” Hamer said.