SARASOTA, Fla. -- A Sarasota pawn shop is the first in the area to lose its license. According to a report released by the Sarasota Sheriff's Office, Jim’s Pawn Shop’s license has been revoked after an investigation into a crime ring implicated the S. Tamiami Trail business. Law enforcement usually works with pawn shop owners to bring them into compliance with the law, but said shutting down the business was necessary due to the egregious nature of the activities uncovered by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office investigation.
According to a letter from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consume Services, which regulates pawn shops, the agency teamed up with the Sarasota Sheriff's Office for Operation Recommit. That investigation produced arrests back in March of this year, including that of James Smith, the owner of Jim’s Pawn Shop. Smith is accused of multiple crimes, including providing cash to known drug users in exchange for sexual favors.
"Sarasota County will not tolerate any criminal activity," says Detective Anthony Colonna of the Sarasota Sheriff's Office.
Operation Recommit resulted in the arrest of six members of an organized crime ring that was stealing goods and selling them on the street and to pawn shops. Police say Smith was running one of the pawn shops frequented by the crooks.
"The owner of [Jim’s Pawn Shop] had actually established a relationship with some convicted felons, and he was using these individuals to go out into our community, visiting … retail establishments and then actually requesting certain items,” says Lt. John Jernigan of the Sarasota Sheriff's Office. “These individuals would then go out, steal the items and bring them directly to him so he could use them for his personal gain."
Documents show that there are at least 31 items in question, but only six were pawned at Jim’s Pawn Shop. Smith wouldn't speak on camera, but he did tell ABC 7 that only two of those six items resulted in charges being filed against him -- one for a drill and the other for pork chops, for which he's accused of failing to fill out the required state paperwork.
Smith denies any involvement in the ring, and points to a man named Michael Rowles as the ringleader of the group. Rowles would visit stores like Walmart, point out specific items that he wanted his accomplices to steal and they would then do so. In one security camera video, you see a woman loading a TV in a cart and walking out of a Walmart without paying for it. Rowles would then take the stolen items and sell them at different pawn shops.
“If a thief knows there’s a place to sell it and get rid of it and make a profit off it they're going to continue," says William Sullivan of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
And since Jim's Pawn was among the locations the groups frequented, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is going after its license.
"In public interest, our department has decided to revoke [Jim’s] license, basically to protect the county here," Sullivan says.