Lawrence Bodle learned the hard way that Kansas laws and guidelines do not require pawnshops to return stolen items free of charge to their rightful owners.
Now, he's speaking out against those laws and guidelines, saying that lawmakers have allowed the pawn industry to become "a legal fencing operation."
Late last month, Bodle returned from vacation to his home at 1218 Tenn. and found his videocassette recorder had been stolen. Police informed him a few days later that the VCR was at Jayhawk Pawn and Jewelry, 1804 W. Sixth, where it had been pawned for $55.
When he went to the store to pick up the VCR, Bodle was shocked to learn that he would have to pay the $55 pawn fee in order to take it home.
He called the police, who told him that the pawnshop employees were legally correct in demanding the pawn fee before they gave up the VCR.
Bodle is outraged at the situation.
"I HAVE THE feeling it is a legal fencing operation," he said. "And that's because the pawnshops have absolutely no incentive to check to see if an item is not stolen. They don't have to give it to the police, and they don't have to give it to the owner."
But Jeff Lummis, manager of Jayhawk Pawn, called Bodle's allegations "slanderous." Lummis said that if he were in Bodle's shoes, he would be happy that the stolen item turned up at a licensed, regulated business because it could have been sold on the street where it could not have been traced.
"We're highly regulated by the state," Lummis said. "We have limits on the amount we can loan on an item $300 and the state sets our interest rates. We're just honest businesspeople trying to make a living. I think he just has a poor stereotype of us."
AN OPINION issued last year by Kansas Atty. Gen. Robert Stephan is at the root of Bodle's problem, said Douglas County Assistant Dist. Atty. Rick Trapp.
Trapp said Stephan's opinion came from a 1985 federal appeals court decision stating that a pawnbroker has rights to property he or she has taken as security for a loan. Before the property may be taken from the pawnbroker, the court decision states, a "due process" hearing must be held to determine who is the correct owner of the property.
Officials aren't much happier with the situation than Bodle is.
"It's clear you have a situation where it's not fair to the victim," Trapp said. "But it's also not fair to the pawnbroker to take his property. It puts everybody in a quandary in a bind."
If a thief who pawns stolen merchandise is arrested and convicted, Trapp said, prosecutors will attempt to get restitution for any pawn fees paid by the victim.
BUT WHEN NO one is arrested, Trapp said, prosecutors can take no action. No arrests have been made stemming from the theft of Bodle's VCR.
So Bodle filed a claim Thursday against the pawnshop in Douglas County small claims court. If he is able to retrieve the VCR through the court action, he said, he would be satisfied because he believes his case would set a precedent for other theft victims whose merchandise is pawned. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 23.
But if he loses the claim, he said, he will fight to have the laws and guidelines changed.
LAWRENCE police Lt. Mike Hall, head of the detective division, sympathized with Bodle's frustration.
"This court ruling puts the victim in the position of being victimized twice the theft of property initially and secondly the fee required to obtain the property," Hall said. "I feel very strongly that it's unjust and it places the entire burden on the victim."
Hall said stolen items turn up "on a regular basis" at local pawnshops. The ruling, he said, gives pawnshops "almost complete immunity" from the consequences of obtaining stolen merchandise.
But Lummis said his store takes numerous official and unofficial steps to check for stolen property. He said an example of employees' methods is to quiz people about items. If the person doesn't know much about the merchandise, he said, chances are good that it is stolen.
Jayhawk Pawn, he said, does not accept items with missing serial numbers unless it's something that isn't supposed to have a serial number and keeps a computer file of information on items that have been reported stolen. If someone tries to pawn something listed in the file, he said, employees call police.
Lummis said he encouraged theft victims to call the store and report the serial numbers and police case number on stolen merchandise.