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Suffolk unveils proposal to regulate pawnshops

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota talks about

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota talks about cracking down on illegal items in pawn shops during a news conference at the Dennison building in Hauppauge on Jan. 16, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk officials unveiled legislation Thursday intended to regulate pawnshops, which authorities claim drive an opioid epidemic by purchasing stolen items from addicts.

"The unscrupulous pawnshop owners are fueling the addiction and thereby fueling the crime that is spurred on by this addiction," said Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke in a Hauppauge news conference with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

The proposal would require pawnshops and precious metal and gem dealers to take a digital photo of a seller, their identification and the items, and upload the photos into a county database that authorities can search, Assistant Deputy County Executive Timothy Sini said.

The legislation will be introduced Feb. 3. A public hearing is set for March 3 with a vote planned for March 24. A violation would be a class A misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

Sini said authorities have identified larcenies and burglaries driven by the opioid epidemic. He said addicts also steal store items, then return them for gift cards that they would then pawn. Under the proposal, operators would photograph those pawning such cards.

Pawnshop operators would also be forbidden from deleting data from electronic purchases such as iPhones for 21 days after the sale, under the proposed law.

Sini said a search of a Ronkonkoma pawnshop on Nov. 26 led to the arrest of a heroin addict with stolen jewelry.

Recently, Suffolk police and the county Department of Consumer Affairs began an undercover investigation and identified several problem pawnshops in Ronkonkoma, Centereach and Central Islip, Sini said. Authorities have recently charged with those operators with falsifying business records, Sini said.

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