By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
Pawn shops and scrap metal recycling centers in Williamsburg became a target of interest Monday during the regular meeting of the Williamsburg City Council.
City resident Jim Wren and his wife, Jan Wren, attended the meeting to request council members amend the city’s current ordinances regulating those businesses.
Jim Wren explained his concern to council members.
“I hired one of my clients (and) a good friend,” Wren said, never revealing the client’s name. “(He had) a bad (criminal) record and was in and out of drugs.”
He explained to council members that this client’s “wife” also had a history of drug problems, but that the client assured Wren that he had “met Jesus” and “turned his life around.”
Wren added that his client was a “talented guy” when it came to construction projects.
“(About) five or six months ago, I hired him to redo a substantial part of my house,” Wren said, adding the bulk of the work was requested on the porch and deck.
The client was paid approximately $25,000 — but then learned that the client and his “wife” had “been stealing from us.”
Council members learned the Wrens lost money, electronics and large amounts of jewelry.
“(We) went on vacation,” Wren said. “(And) left the gentlemen and his ‘wife’ to look after (our) two kids.”
When they returned from out of town, their suspicions were confirmed.
“(It was) clear they had taken a bunch of jewelry,” he said, adding much of it was taken to area pawn shops — including those in Williamsburg.
Wren told council members after working with the Williamsburg City Police Department, three area pawn shops had been approached by the alleged thieves about accepting the missing property.
“One pawn shop knew immediately it could not be her (jewelry),” Wren said.
He then alleged to council members the second pawn shop “took some things (they) probably knew were stolen.”
Wren further alleged the third pawn shop was approached by the female of the pair with a camera she told shop employees “was a gift.”
However, the card inside the camera clearly had pictures of Wren and his family.
The third pawn shop “would not cooperate” with the investigation, Wren said.
He then discussed the drug abuse epidemic in the region, particularly with prescription drugs.
“There’s a tremendous problem in the county with prescription medications,” Wren said.
He suggested making it less “convenient” for these drug seekers to take stolen property to both pawn shops and scrap metal recycling centers — with a “three strikes and you’re out” rule.
He explained the city could institute a “privilege license” for these types of businesses to operate within city limits.
Then, if these businesses are caught three times within one year purchasing stolen merchandise — they lose the privilege to operate that business for the balance of the year.
Further, Wren said, those businesses should not be able to operate for a year after that, and only after restitution to the offended party is made.
Also, those same businesses must show proof that their day-to-day operations have been modified to eliminate the problem in the future.
“It’s not fair to the citizens of Williamsburg not to have something (in place) to dry up (the problem),” he said. “You can regulate the economy — (and there’s) always been a law in Williamsburg for privilege licenses.”
Wren explained his reason for the initial trust.
“Were Jan and I stupid? Probably, yes,” Wren said. “(But it) was missionary zeal on our parts.”
Both the client and his “wife” are likely to be indicted, Wren told council members.
“This isn’t rocket science,” he said. “(We just) ask pawn shops (and recycling centers) to use common sense.”
“I’m all for doing whatever we can possibly do,” Mayor Roddy Harrison said. “(But) we want to make sure (what we do) is Constitutional.”
WPD Chief Wayne Bird said pawn shops legally are supposed to photograph “scrap gold” and other pawned jewelry and hold the items for a minimum of two weeks.
“There are three-strike rules in other states and cities,” Bird said, and added that the privilege license requires a $1,000 “bond” be posted.
“I’m in favor of (being) as strict as we possibly can,” Harrison said. “We don’t want to squash business.”
Harrison then asked council members Troy Sharp, Laurel West and Mary Ann Stanfill to review current ordinances and come up with a new law. Sharp will head the committee.
No official vote was required on this issue.
For more on Monday’s meeting, see Wednesday’s edition of The Times-Tribune.