The owners of a Reisterstown store have been given probation after allegedly purchasing stolen jewelry taken in a rash of burglaries in Baltimore and Carroll counties last year.
Baltimore County police last year cited the case of Crown Jewelry as an example of the easy market for stolen metals. Authorities said in November that they recovered hundreds of pieces of gold and silver jewelry linked to a string of nearly 30 area burglaries.
A number of those pieces were recovered from Crown Jewelry, which had not reported the purchases to state regulators as required, authorities said.
But owners Jay Radchenko and Anthony Gelfen said in court this week that the lack of record-keeping was an oversight and resulted from confusion about the statewide electronic records system introduced in 2010. The system requires precious metals dealers to provide detailed transaction reports so that items, if stolen, can be easily traced.
Baltimore County Circuit Judge H. Patrick Stringer Jr. gave Radchenko and Gelfen probation before judgment and a $300 fine.
County Police Chief James W. Johnson said Tuesday that his agency would continue to aggressively investigate such businesses.
"These thefts are a huge problem in Maryland and nationally," he said. "I'm never deterred by the actions of the court. We remain focused on preventing crime."
Police said Crown Jewelry and a second shop on Reisterstown Road, JD Loan, bought stolen goods and did not properly report the purchases. John Doyle, the owner of JD Loan, is scheduled to appear in court in August.
An attorney for Gelfen and Radchenko said in court Monday that his clients opened their store in August, were still learning the new system and had attempted to fill out forms properly. They were charged in November.
Attorney Thomas McElroy said his clients had learned from the investigation and have since correctly reported more than 80 precious metals transactions without any complaints made against them.
"I've learned everything about those transactions," Radchenko told Stringer.
Gelfen said, "I do sincerely apologize."
Since they had no prior records, Stringer sentenced them to probation before judgment and issued each man a $300 fine.
County police conducted surveillance and completed undercover transactions during their investigation. Police said some of the stolen items recovered had been broken and had jewels removed, making them easier to melt down.
As gold prices have increased in the past 10 years, Baltimore County has seen the number of precious metal dealers nearly double. There are now about 100 dealers licensed.
Authorities say most businesses comply with regulations, but some are enticed by high profits and weak penalties to underreport or omit transactions.
Licensees are required to record transactions, to collect sellers' names, and to hold onto items for 18 days.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said the agency can review the licenses of gold buyers if an operator is convicted. Spokeswoman Maureen O'Connor said the state can also investigate and decide to revoke or suspend licenses based on consumer complaints.
O'Connor said the department has not received any complaints against Crown Jewelers. Under probation before judgment, they can avoid conviction if they meet the requirements of their sentences.
Charges were dropped in March against alleged burglars Shannon Lee and William Bircher II. Matthew Short, another defendant charged in the burglaries, is scheduled to appear in court in July.
Stephen R. Tully, the attorney representing the owner of JD Loan, said his client is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 16.
"We plan to try this case," he said.