A Bay Street store that specializes in second-hand goods today urged government to strengthen police enforcement of existing laws to put a stop to what it called “unscrupulous dealers who look the other way when gold jewelry or scrap metal is brought in and exchanged for cash.”
Enforcement, said Cashwiz spokesman Tony Johns, would stem the rapidly growing incidence of mugging, grabbing and snatching or breaking and entering to steal small items, especially gold jewellery, readily and easily exchangeable for quick cash.
Johns’ comments came one day after Minister of National Security Bernard Nottage threatened to order all cash-for-gold stores closed and said he would consider closing down scrap metal dealers who accept copper and other metals in exchange for cash. Johns said he fully agreed with the Minister’s comments that the cash-for-gold business as it was currently being conducted was an open invitation to crime, but said legislation existed to allow enforcement that would put an immediate end to such practices.
“Closing down all of the used goods and gold buyers for abuse of the law by some is like throwing the baby out with the bath water,” said Johns, whose stores, Nassau Pawn on Bay Street, Cashwiz on East Street and GB Trading Post in Grand Bahama, urged creation of legislation to regularize gold-buying in 2010. At that time, Nassau Pawn demonstrated to police that it could identify the source of goods it accepted, had photographic records of goods, licenses or other identification of persons who brought in goods for short-term loans, that goods were held for specified periods, not melted down as some stores do, leaving no record of what cash was exchanged for. Cashwiz, he pointed out, employs a full-time compliance officer to ensure that their stores are not just compliant with Bahamian law but with international criminal and money laundering standards.
“The government did move quickly to establish that legislation, and the Pawnbrokers and Second-hand Dealers Act became law in December of 2011 with the regulations in place a few months later,” said Johns. “We applauded government for taking that step and moving so quickly.
“The problem is not that we don’t have laws against improperly run cash-for-gold operations or dealers, the problem is that those laws, whether it is because of a shortage of resources or other priorities, are not being enforced strongly enough and the stores that are outright flouting the law are not cooperating. My sympathies are with the Bahamian police who have been tasked to enforce these laws without the support, in many cases, of the dealers themselves. The result is the whole industry is too lax. Too many dealers believe they can get away with taking in a gold necklace, bracelet or rings, having no idea whether the person who brought it in owned it himself or just stole it, creating no photographic record of the transaction, just handing the person cash and letting him go,” Johns continued. “In some cases, the gold is melted down before the person is out the door.”
Cashwiz, he noted, handles many larger items belonging to people who legitimately trade them in through a re-purchase contract or no longer need them.
“It could be a lawn mower that belongs to someone who has moved into a condominium or a motorcycle belonging to someone who is expecting his first child and decides that a car is more practical,” said Johns. “Whatever the item, we have the same rules. We create a record for each transaction. We insist on a declaration of ownership. We look for unique identifiers, we get the person bringing it in to sign an agreement for a buy-back option for up to 30 days. We hold everything for a minimum of 14 days. We can even tell you the time of day someone brought an item into our store. We scan identification documents, photograph the seller and the item. We take the seller’s fingerprints. And we encourage the presence of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.”
The same, he said, should be done with scrap metal. Rupert Roberts, owners of Super Value and Quality Value Supermarkets, has said theft of copper has cost him “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” much of it in air-conditioning and refrigeration that also leads to food spoilage. High end residences with copper rain gutters, trim and sculpted gates have been hit.
Johns pointed to a recent case in Antigua in which a pawn shop’s assistance led to the arrest and conviction of a man for the theft of nearly $25,000 worth of jewelry. The pawn shop’s photos of the stolen goods helped convict the suspect who was sentenced to three years in prison for grand larceny.
“Self-regulation and enforcement, not closure, are what we urgently need. Arrests would serve as an example that ill-gotten goods cannot be exchanged for cash. With scrap metal, those who are collecting it legitimately can prove that they have been hired to remove cars or structures. They are not hauling away tons of material out of the goodness of their hearts because they want to clean up the environment. We can fix this. We do not need to eradicate entire businesses, put people out of work or close shops that are paying rent, National Insurance, business license fees and in other ways contributing to the economy of The Bahamas. We really hope the government will take a second look because by enforcement and fines, they could not only demonstrate they will not tolerate this complete disregard for the law and the security of the people, but gain revenue.”