By Roger Drouin
Mike Lewis, co-owner of Siesta Sports Rentals, has had bicycles stolen over the past 10 years. But typically he never sees the stolen bikes again.
When three bicycles were stolen sometime overnight on April 7, however, the outcome turned out to be different. The three brand-new Trek hybrid bicycles were stolen from vacationers who had rented them, but the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office found the bikes.
Deputies had discovered the bikes at two different Sarasota pawn shops after checking serial numbers in the pawn-shop database. “The police phoned us and said ‘we think we have your stolen bikes,’” Lewis said. Deputies then worked with Lewis to compare serial numbers to confirm the bicycles were in fact the stolen ones. A deputy then interviewed Robert Joseph Bennett Jr., 36, of Siesta Key, and after admitting to stealing the bicycles, Bennett was charged with dealing in stolen property and providing false information to a pawn broker.
“In this case, the police did a good job,” Lewis said.
Yet the good news ended with the good police work.
When it came to retrieving the bicycles, Lewis encountered an obstacle. Two separate pawn shops told him he would have to pay the two pawn shops a total of $275 to get the stolen bicycles back.
Deputies told Lewis that under Florida law, pawn shops have the right to request money from the rightful owner of stolen items before giving the items back. That is unless a judge orders them to return the items.
Most know of laws that prevent pawn shops from dealing in stolen goods. But Florida Statue 539 actually protects the pawn shop if a good is stolen. News of the law confounded Lewis.
The statue—which Lewis contends was likely created in part at the urging of the pawn-shop lobby—absolves pawn shops of the responsibility of properly vetting goods that may be stolen. In theory, the shop can buy and sell stolen items with impunity because the law is on their side.
“They are in a no-lose situation,” Lewis told Siesta Sand. “If they buy something stolen, it’s your problem. You can come by and buy it back from them.”
Lewis isn’t the only local theft victim who has encountered this statue. A Longboat Key resident who had his $2,000 racing bike stolen and recovered last year was asked to pay $100 to retrieve the bicycle from a pawn shop, according to a July, 2014 ABC 7 news article. http://www.mysuncoast.com/news/local/florida-law-permits-pawn-shops-to-request-money-for-stolen/article_745a30ea-0ebd-11e4-8653-0017a43b2370.html
The Siesta Sports Rental bikes were stolen April 7 from the Avenida De Mayo rental home where the vacationers who had rented the bikes were staying. According to the Sarasota County Probable Cause Affidavit, “Sometime in the overnight hours of 4/7/15 the bicycles went missing from the garage… the garage was left unsecured overnight.”
A search of the pawn database revealed that Bennett had pawned a total of four bikes, including another bike, a Trek 3500 mountain bike, that were stolen from the garage. The bikes were sold to Gold Coast Pawn, located at 3210 Clark Road, and Presidential Pawn, located at 1616 N Washington Blvd, Sarasota.
According to the arrest report, “[A deputy] located the defendant at his residence and conducted a noncustodial interview, outside in his front yard. He denied stealing the bicycles, but when confronted with the evidence, he admitted to stealing four bicycles from the open garage.”