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A Store Owner Finds Himself Caught Between A Woman’s Plight and Her Ex-Husband’s Right to Privacy

Should he do anything about what he knows?

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ROGER RYAN BELIEVED that the survival of his one-man operation, Ryan’s Jewelers, through several economic downturns, had primarily been the result of the highly successful gold-buying events he ran. His well-crafted and well-placed ads, combined with his great reputation for integrity, brought sellers in droves, and with them, profits greater than he could ever have imagined.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

His buying event last fall had been the most successful to date and had felt more like a party, with many of his “regulars” taking the opportunity to get reacquainted, as well as lots of new clients coming in to sell their gold. It was so busy that Roger hadn’t even been able to talk to everyone who had come in. He was grateful for the help of a couple of friends who often showed up to lend a hand whenever he was expecting a big crowd for a buying event.

Several weeks after the event, Roger was delighted to see Cindy Sanderson come into the store. She and her husband Mike had been coming into the store every year for as long as he could remember. He had spotted Mike very briefly at the buying event, but he had never quite gotten around to saying hello. As he greeted Cindy, Roger noticed that she looked rather tired and worn out. He got the usual rundown when he asked about her college-age son, her older daughter and their beautiful granddaughter, but was taken aback when he asked, “So, where’s Mike today?” Cindy replied,
“I have no idea — but if you see him, let me know so I can be somewhere else!”

The expression on Roger’s face must have conveyed his surprise because Cindy said, “Oh — I’m sorry. I guess you haven’t heard …” She proceeded to tell him about Mike’s affair with a young assistant at his law firm and a very ugly divorce that had dragged on since last year. She said that the worst of it was that in the middle of all the fighting, someone had broken into her house and stolen all of her jewelry and several pieces of expensive art. She believed that Mike was behind it — as a way to get back at her for demanding a hefty settlement — but neither she nor the local police could prove anything. She said that while her insurance covered the financial end of the loss, the sentimental value of many of the jewelry items could never be replaced. Roger helped Cindy pick out a new watch and diamond stud earrings and let her know that he was very sorry for all she’d gone through. He reminded her that he would be available for whatever she needed and wished her well.

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As soon as Cindy had pulled out of the parking lot, Roger went back through the receipts from the gold-buying events and felt his heart sink as he saw one with Mike Sanderson’s name on it. He saw that one of his friends had taken care of Mike, who had sold several gold bracelets, a couple of single earrings, a pair of platinum wedding bands and a diamond fashion ring. State law required that merchandise bought over the counter remain in the store for a full 30 days before disposition, so Roger was able to look at the pieces in Mike’s envelope. Despite his sincere hope to the contrary, he was not surprised to find the envelope filled with pieces that he had sold to Mike over the years.

Roger double-checked all the documentation and was relieved to find that the transaction was handled perfectly and every detail was in compliance with state and local regulations. Nonetheless, the whole thing left him with a queasy, uncomfortable feeling, believing that he had some sort of responsibility to Cindy — but not knowing exactly what to do about it.

The Big Questions

  • Should Roger get involved at all? Is his obligation to Mike — one of confidentiality and the discretion promised to all of his clients — or is it to Cindy — one of friendship and integrity?
  • He knows for certain that the pieces were sold to Mike, but he has no way of knowing for sure that Cindy’s story is anything more than just her side of an ugly tale. Is he obligated to notify the police of his suspicion, or should he let the rest of the 30-day waiting period expire, then dispose of the items, along with all the rest?
Peter T.
Show Low, AZ

Mike sold stolen property. He is a thief. Roger should immediately report what he knows about the stolen property to both the police and to Cindy. This issue has nothing to do with “friendship,” confidentiality” or “loyalty.” It is an issue of decency, legality, and integrity. Screw Mike and all thieves like him.

Autumn A.
Old Westbury, NY

Roger was notified of a possible crime and discovered he may have purchased stolen goods. What’s there to debate? If this man has any sort of moral compass, he will immediately notify the police and let them sort this out. If there was a robbery, there would be a police report on file along with a list of the items stolen. I’d wager that many (if not all) of the items that were purchased at the gold buying event from Mike are likely on that list and should rightly be returned to their owner. If Roger does anything less, it makes him a coward who should not be in this business.

Leonard G.
Galloway, NJ

We had a similar situation. We decided to inform both parties we would not release any of their jewelry to either party. We demanded a copy of a legal settlement signed by both parties and both law firms before we released any property to anyone. We advised both parties that if a settlement could not be reached, then we would wait for a court order. Any monies we paid out would be returned to us. As it worked out, we received a signed settlement by both parties and the law firms involved. The jewelry stayed in the safe for a year and a half. We retained both parties as customers, and we were off the hook.

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Kay D.
Andover, MA

Roger should not get involved because he has built his business on integrity and he has no way of knowing the entire truth of the situation (on both sides). If he were to report Mike to the police, he would risk not only losing Mike’s friendship and business but potential bad publicity as well. (One unhappy customer can be 100 times louder — in a very negative way — than 100 of your happiest customers.) If he wants to do something nice for Cindy, he can provide a nice discount on a future purchase.

Richard G.
Birmingham, MI

This is a very believable and sad story, but the question of Roger’s response should not be complicated by personal feelings. He has reason to believe that merchandise that he purchased was stolen. It is his obligation to report his concerns to the police. The story indicates that the police have already been involved; they should have a description of the stolen jewelry. If the jewelry purchased from Mike matches the description, then the police can take the jewelry, use it for evidence in a case against Mike, and return it to Cindy. Yes, Mike will certainly no longer be a client and may be mad, but Roger has acted honorably. And would Roger really want to keep a person who steals from his wife as a client?

Joseph V.
Austin, TX

I would be interested in knowing what the local and state laws are for KNOWINGLY buying and selling stolen merchandise. While the store owner had no prior knowledge of the alleged theft, he now knows that according to the spouse, the police were contacted about the stolen items. Therefore, it is the store owner’s responsibility to follow all laws governing “stolen merchandise.” When doing so, the store owner makes a reasonable effort to do what is right in the eyes of the law regardless of how long the client has been a customer. The last thing any store owner needs is to be implicated in the commerce of stolen property.

Josiah Z.
designsbynathan.us

I think you are asking the wrong question. Yes, there are murky moral issues concerning the relationships with Mike and Cindy, but those are overridden by Roger’s legal obligation to report his conversation with Cindy and Mike’s sales receipt from the event. Cindy clearly disclosed that the theft had been reported to the police, and Roger confirmed that Mike sold pieces at his event. If he suspects those pieces might have been stolen, he must report that to the police. Otherwise, he could end up hurting his reputation and get accused of selling stolen merchandise. He certainly can’t dispose of the jewelry even after 30 days if he suspects it was stolen. It is the police’s job to figure out who is telling the truth, not Roger’s. And making sure he doesn’t run afoul of the law is his primary responsibility. The rest should properly run its course with the police and the courts, who are already involved in the case and the divorce.

Timothy M.
South Boston, VA

If the items in the envelope that was purchased for scrap have been reported as stolen with a police report being filled out and with the insurance company issuing a payout, then yes, this information needs to be reported. Being caught between the husband/wife is one thing; being caught up in an insurance fraud felony case is even more detrimental. That could end a business in short order.

Megan C.
Poulsbo, WA

This is a very unfortunate situation! My advice would be to contact the police before doing anything else. As Cindy indicated, things had been stolen from the house. The store owner could have the police confirm that the jewelry brought to his store were or were not part of the missing items. If the store owner says nothing, and it comes to light at a future date that he bought back the items, it could be much worse. I feel integrity is at stake here even though he’s risking Mike’s privacy. Not a good place to be: Caught in the middle!

Ralph H.
Connersville, IN

Are you familiar with the saying, “You’re about to pay for your attorney’s grandkids’ grandkids’ college education?” What happened is sad, maybe criminal. You know absolutely nothing about this event. Likely, hubby got a case of the mid-life grubbies and found a new chick. Likely he’s a complete scofflaw. You don’t know! Know this: The minute you enter the fray, you attract the attention of attorneys on both sides and might be accused of criminal activity, even when you were completely honest. Treat the wife (and the husband) as customers, just as always, and don’t try to second guess someone’s life. If you see something obviously criminal, treat that just as you always would: Call your lawyer!!! You’re a jeweler; treat each customer with respect and let them live their lives.

Jo G.
Oconomowoc, WI

Let me get this straight, the question is, should he do the right thing or keep his money? Stolen property is stolen property, and you have no right to it, even if you purchased it with the best intentions. I would call the wife back in and show her the jewelry. If it is hers, I would then call the police and turn it all over to them to straighten out. I wouldn’t be happy about it, but it is the right thing to do. Years ago, I purchased a ring from a young man. I didn’t buy it as scrap because it was his grandmother’s ring, and if he didn’t pay his child support, he couldn’t see his kids that Christmas. I told him it was a loan and tucked it in my safe. A few weeks later, a woman emailed me saying she believed I had purchased her wedding ring when her roommate sold it. I called my police chief. He verified it was stolen, and I returned it.

Tim S.
Fairbanks, AK

This is the reason that there is a “state law required that merchandise bought over the counter remain in the store for a full 30 days before disposition.” It allows time to recover any stolen items after a crime. Even if there wasn’t a law to hold the merchandise for 30 days, you have a legal if not a moral responsibility to report it to the authorities. I don’t want a customer using my store to hide his misdeeds. That is the risk we take buying over the counter. If you don’t turn him in for selling you stolen items or merch that has been reported stolen, you are an accessory to the crime and can possibly be implicated as a money laundering scheme with him. Not to mention insurance fraud. There are all ways this can go bad for the store owner in this case considering his long sales history with the couple. The husband is a scumbag; he deserves to get caught!

Steve J.
Carefree, AZ

Roger should simply call the detective in charge of the Pawn/Precious Items Dealer section, that he is licensed under, and relate what he knows and possesses in his safe and let them deal with it. And, tell no one else.

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Mary T.
Leavenworth, WA

Roger’s duty is to the law. He needs to remember that stolen goods (if that’s what they are) are stolen goods period. The insurance company will be looking for that merchandise and if Roger is put on the stand, he will have to admit he knew it was potentially stolen!

Paula H.
Concord, NH

Roger’s business has a 30-day grace period for a reason: to notify police of any strange issues with the jewelry that comes in during his events or any other time.

Yes, the paperwork was filled out correctly with Mike and Roger’s staff; however, the fact that Cindy stated a break-in, a police report and insurance claim filed, Roger owes it to the integrity of his business to do the right thing, contact the police. If the claim Cindy made is false and there are no police reports, Roger has his go-ahead to proceed with the transaction his staff and Mike made.

If, however, the police and insurance company have a detailed list of items to compare to Roger’s list, the police should take over, as they are supposed to review pawn shop and cash for gold operations. From that point on it is up to Mike, Cindy, the insurance company and police to settle this uncomfortable mess.

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