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By Alex Horvath
BY STEVE E. SWENSON, Californian staff writer email@example.com
So when your gold jewelry or laptop computer is stolen, where does it end up?
Chances are it won’t be given to some seedy guy who buys it dirt cheap and then resells it for a bit more. That kind of guy is called a fence, and he’s a bit old fashioned for the modern thief.
He’s being replaced with cash4gold.com, eBay and craigslist.
Still your stuff could end up in some traditional spots — flea markets, the trunk of the thief’s car or pawn shops.
But in Bakersfield, the pawn shops can be risky bet. That’s because police service technician Jim
White, a 30-year veteran, analyzes some 87,000 transactions a year and recovers a fair amount of jewelry, silverware and antiques.
Since 1984, he’s helped recover $1.8 million worth of stolen property. He said he averages about $72,000 a year, but his peak years were $105,000 in 2002 and $163,000 in 2008.
White says he does this by sitting in front of a computer all day long, putting the transactions into a data base and picking out the ones “that just don’t seem to look right.”
For example, an 18-year-old comes in with an expensive watch that was made when he was just a toddler, White said..
Or a coin collection is brought in and White finds recent theft reports of a similar coin collection.
And anything with a serial number or model number is checked for hits on stolen property reports, he said.
That’s the biggest problem police have in trying to identify stolen property, Sgt. Jon Scott said.
People aren’t engraving or marking their television sets, computers and jewelry with something that can be traced back to the owner, and they are not listing serial numbers or model numbers, he said.
Gold wedding bands, for example, frequently look alike unless they are marked with a wedding date or some other unique way, he said.
Police find a lot of property they believe is stolen, but they can’t prove is stolen or determine who it was stolen from, he said.
Jewelry without identification, for example, is difficult to trace back to an owner unless the owner has taken photographs or videos of it, he said.
Police believe the biggest dumping ground for stolen jewelry is cash4gold.com, Sgt. Don Cegielski said.
Thieves see that website advertised on television and they send in the jewelry where it is melted down to an unrecognizable liquid, he said. They even target items that the site accepts, Cegielski said.
Another online site criminals use is eBay. Police recover some items by checking eBay, but it’s not a rich source of recovery, he said.
Classified ads in craigslist or The Californian are sometimes used to dispose of stolen goods, Cegielski said.
Certainly, flea markets or garage sales have a share of hot items, but police haven’t found much there that is provably stolen, the sergeant said.
Some thieves skip the middle man and sell television sets, computers and jewelry right out of their trunk.
“If a guy sells you a $1,500 television, for $50, chances are it’s stolen,” Scott said. Both the seller and buyer can be charged with a crime in such circumstances, he said.
Still, fences haven’t completely gone out of business. A year ago, police caught three residential burglars and one of them offered to show police where he planned to unload the stolen items.
Officers went to a Mercado Latino business of Angel Sullivan, who was selling both ice cream and cell phones, Scott said.
As they went to talk to him, a couple young men came in with three cell phones they had just stolen from a Valley Plaza kiosk, Scott said.
Sullivan was sent to prison for 16 months, court records show.
Police are always on the lookout for stolen property. About a week ago, California Highway Patrol officers stopped a car on Highway 99 and found a crate of brand new cell phones that had been stolen from a Valley Plaza business, Scott said.
“Stuff like that happens all the time,” he said.
Not all thieves dispose of their booty — some steal for their own personal benefit.
Phillip Quezada was one of those. “He kept almost everything he took,” Scott said.
When police raided his Bakersfield home a year ago, they found stolen gift certificates, DVD players, stereos, luggage, flat screen TVs and video games, Scott said.
His new home is prison after getting a 10-year sentence for a conviction of 15 felonies.
He watches state-owned TV’s now.