Two weeks ago Senator Victor Ramirez proposed PG 416-11. This bill put a holding period of 30 days for all precious metals purchased and pawned in Prince Georges County. It is a state level bill but targeted Prince George’s County directly. Prince George’s County is already required to hold all non-precious metal buys for 30 days but not pawns – the state of Maryland is required to hold precious metals for 18 days. Senator Ramirez was simply trying to make all holding periods the same for all of Prince George’s County but in the process missed how pawns/loans were handled. The intent of this bill was to target the ‘cash for gold’ type of businesses and pawnshops simply got caught in the crossfire. I would like to thank the delegates to Prince George’s County that took their time to meet with me as well as Senator Ramirez for his willingness to cooperate and work with us to make this the best bill that it could be. With the amendment that was worked out between myself and Senator Ramirez all precious metal buys will be held for 30 days but pawns will revert to the state mandated 18 day hold. We are more than appreciative that Senator Ramirez took our concerns seriously and made the appropriate changes to the bill.
The speech I gave at the public hearing is below:
Prince George’s County Pawnshops have been required to file their reports electronically for the last 5-10 years. The electronic reports include everything from a customer’s drivers license details, a second track able identification and a detailed report as to what the customer is selling or pawning. When it comes to precious metals this includes the weight of the precious medal, the length/type if it is a chain, the size if it is a ring, the stone count, type of stones and any identifiable markings that may be seen. Legislation mandating a 30 day hold period on hardgoods, everything except precious metals, was pushed for in 1997. It is important to note that even this legislation included only buys and not pawns. The reason cited for this push was the backlog of data that had not yet been entered into the police database. At the time there was one police officer entering every transaction by hand into the database. The backlog was weeks and sometimes months behind. Items were being held, released and sold before being entered into the police database. With today’s technology data is entered automatically 12-24 hours after a transaction. The information is available almost immediately and with great detail. Within the next year, with the roll-out of the BWI system, the data will be streamed immediately after the transaction is processed. It is counter intuitive and punitive to create a longer holding period when laws and technology have done away with the problems that had at one time existed.
Precious metals are commodities and their prices are on a constant flux. This law will not only have a negative impact on our businesses but will also negatively impact all of our customers. Having to hold precious medals for 30 days will force us to offer lower prices as our risk will climb dramatically. The price of gold is known to fluctuate more then 10-15% over any given month. Customers needing a loan will be offered less money and will either have to accept the lower offer, move their business to surrounding counties and states or mail their gold to gold buyers where tracking is non-existent. The extremely rare case the extra hold period would make a difference is outweighed by the burden put on the tens of thousands of customers needing loans and the loss of business and income merchants in your community would face.
This legislation was also intended to capture the fly-by-night gold buyers. I believe law passed last year that has done away with this issue. It would be very difficult for an outside business to setup in a hotel, or shopping mall and buy gold for a day and leave the next as they had in the past.
One of the largest deficiencies of the law is that it does not differentiate between pawns, which are loans based on collateral, and buys. There would be a great loss of business if we had to tell our customers they could not redeem their pawns, their property, for 30 days. I have never heard of an instance where a stolen item was pawned and redeemed. This will also send our customers to surrounding counties and states that do not have the same holding period.
There are bad seeds in any and all industries. There are many merchants conducting illegal and completely unregulated secondhand precious medal buys in this community. There is already great legislation and laws that govern how we transact our businesses. We take pride in the collaborative relationship we have with the police. Take this time to enforce the laws that are already on the books and help level the playing field for the merchants that pay taxes, maintain employees, invest in our community and follow the letter of the law.
We have been knee deep in litigation with the county. Three weeks ago we managed to get a TRO (temporary restraining order) against parts of CB-40-2010. What that means is that the county cannot enforce certain parts of the bill. Yesterday we had our preliminary injunction hearing which would extend the TRO until we can go to full trial. Everything in court seemed to go well, I can’t go into specifics for obvious reasons, but one aspect of court seemed especially unfair. The county claimed its witnesses were all sick but since all of our witnesses were there we still had to present our side of the case. The county has now seen our entire hand and has until February 1st to formulate its side of the case based on what it saw us present. Does this seem unfair to anyone else? They didn’t even have to name their witnesses.
I will give more updates shortly…. Thanks for all your support!
We had a rough inspection yesterday. I can’t blame the Detective for these errors even though I still find it absurd we have to go through this. Sometimes I don’t know if I am putting up too much of a battle or not. There are two fronts right now. The County Council, Eric Olson in particular, and the Pawn Unit. I don’t know most of the members of the Pawn unit I only really know the detective that audits our store. I hear from other shops that have other detectives doing their audits that it is a much friendlier relationship. I do believe we could have a good relationship with the pawn unit but not with our current detective. Having a detective come into your store that you know wants to take your livelihood and the livelihood of your family and friends away makes it personal. If she was simply auditing us, working with us and even giving us citations but was also trying to help us it would be a different story. She does not want us here and would be quite happy to help in our extinction.
The detective was only in our shop for about 40 minutes which is relatively short. It is probably because she found 3-5 errors within the first 20 minutes. A few missing signatures and a mistyped social security number. I had hired a legal aid to audit us nightly, needless to say she is no longer working here. I will have to audit the store myself daily for the foreseeable future. Besides these errors there were two other larger issues that were spoken about. Quick back story; we had a meeting with the pawn unit of the Prince Georges County Police Department along with representatives from the DLLR and DER. This meeting was supposed to bring us closer together and start a new relationship of cooperation. One of the issues we asked about was the sending of the daily police reports by 10am. On the rare occasion we lose internet or electricity these data files cannot be sent. In this meeting they made it very clear that was an understandable exception. This happened to use twice over the past month, both times I notified the unit and thought it wasn’t anything that would be spoken about. We are RARELY ever late on these because I wrote a script that automatically send these files in the morning. Human error has been completely removed. We were not written up but we were given a verbal warning so hopefully Pepco and Verizon DSL have sorted out their issues. The second issue that we were warned about was our collection of second ID’s. We recently were forced to switch to a Maryland issued transaction form. Prince George’s County has slightly different rules when it comes to second ID’s so the form doesn’t exactly fit what they want therefore we have to hand write extra information that just adds to the chance of more errors. The main rule is that second ID’s have to be trackable. We usually use social security cards which work great and we also use credit card numbers. Problem with credit card numbers is that they are long therefore there is no room to write the issuing bank name or type of card. I argued that none of that information is even needed since the card number itself makes it trackable. I’m not sure if the detective did not believe me or that this whole ‘cooperation’ thing is just a bunch of b*s*. My whole goal is to narrow my chances of having any human error on the part of my employees and give the detectives the tools to fight crime. I have created a tool that should help solve this small issue for both of us. – http://topdollarpawnbrokers.com/cc.asp
Last week I stated that there would be an amendment allowing us to sell our stores upon retirement. The amendment now reads;
“1. Page 4, after page 2 add Such provisions would not preclude the capital stock of publicly traded companies, trading on a public stock exchange and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“the SEC”), from being bought and sold.”
In reality this amendment was written solely for First Cash. Us little guys have been screwed by the beast and the county council democrats that are supposed to be for small business.
Is this legal??? We own the same exact business. Can they really say because they are a public company and I am private small dog I can not grow or sell my business but because they are big public lions they can?? Can a law, a legislation really be written or changed for the benefit of one company and the demise of another – two companies that are in the same business!!!??
Two of my employees had to go to court today for citations that were issued almost two months ago. The most ironic part about these citations is that they were originally written over a month ago incorrectly. My employees already went to court for these citations but the judge threw them out because the Detective had written the wrong county violation codes on the tickets. …not to mention Prince George’s County was also spelled incorrectly on the citations. Luckily for the Detective she is not fined for her clerical errors, she simply re-writes and re-issues them.
Three of the citations were for missing signatures and one was for a missing serial number. Every transaction report needs to be signed by both the person selling/pawning the item and the employee. While I do think missing a signature should be an easy thing to catch I also don’t believe it should be a fine-able offense considering taking my employees to court and fining them $25 does nothing to help get crime off the street or protect public safety. A detective has to actually show up to court for hours – two detectives were there today. Can we say wasting tax payer dollars??? When the transaction report was found with the missing signatures the detective could have simply asked the employee to sign it. As for the missing serial number – it was for a Rolex watch. The serial number is under where the band attaches to the watch. The bands have to be removed to get to the signature. Again, there is no excuse but this is something easily fixable. These are all clerical errors easily remedied without the need for court. They were only uncovered after the Detective spent many hours in my store going through transaction after transaction. Again, taxpayers dollars hard at work. I am quite sure the half dozen stores around mine taking illegal items off the street could have been all shut down in the amount of time they have spent trying to find clerical errors in my store.
We ended up getting all of the cases thrown out of court but not for the reasons we were expecting. When the detective finds one of these clerical errors she makes a copy of the citation then brings the copy to court as evidence. Apparently copies of business records are not legally allowed to be used as evidence therefore they had no evidence of any wrong doing.
I know it sounds silly to fight these $25 citations but soon they will be $1100 citations. It is obvious they are desperately searching for ways to shut us down. I spent then last two years being the ‘nice guy’ as they past new legislation and spent more and more time in my store investigating us. Doing nothing and being the nice guy got me no where. These are battles I really do not wish to fight but doing nothing has just allowed them to do more.
The public hearing went great!! About 15 of us spoke including a few pawnshop owners, employees and even a few customers. We had about 100 people there in support. At the end of the meeting Eric Olson appeared a bit shaken and did a quick interview with Detective Atkinson. Detective Atkinson stated that she does not write citations for clerical errors unless they are made numerous times. If numerous times equals twice then I suppose there is a minute bit of truth in that. She also spoke highly about my store in particular, commending us on the new self auditing measures we have placed in our store. I would love to say thanks except that even though she knows how hard we are trying she has still managed to give us a citation. I stress out of 500 transactions we do you can’t expect us not to make one or two clerical errors.
I have also been informed by my lobbyist and confirmed by the CEO of First Cash that there will be an amendment that will keep my rights to sell my store when I decide to retire. This was a huge deal for us as the American Dream is to build your business then one day retire on what you have built.
Stay tuned for updates to come….