The Word in the House 4/4/2013 - Improving a Law Enforcement Tool

In a previous article I wrote about a bill that passed the House, H.522, that addressed opiate addiction and methamphetamine abuse.  That same bill also addressed a problem connected to drug abuse, the problem of home break-ins targeting jewelry and other precious metals.  

Most of the break-ins and other property crimes that seem to have proliferated over the last few years are related to substance abuse.  Thieves will grab anything that looks valuable and try to get rid of it as quickly as possible for cash to score their next fix.  In a recent case in Alburgh, thieves stole more than $200,000 worth of gold coins from a vacant house and sold the coins to coin and jewelry dealers around Chittenden County.  Second-hand coin and jewelry dealers are one of the first places thieves go to try to cash in their booty. One dealer notified police after becoming concerned about the number of coins coming in.  Only $5000 worth of coins was recovered by police.

Two years ago I introduced a bill that would require better record-keeping by second-hand dealers, including photo ID information from the seller, a description of the items being sold, and a requirement to hold onto the items for at least 10 days before reselling them.  These provisions were added in 2012 to a bill seeking to address similar problems with stolen copper.  That bill passed and was signed into law.  Since then enforcing compliance has been a problem, and antiques dealers found reason to object to a provision that made it difficult to comply when they bought items in an estate sale. 

As a result, based on input from the Vermont State Police and the antique dealers association, a bill was co-sponsored by Representatives Diane Lanpher (D-Vergennes), Herb Russell (D-Rutland) and myself to improve the law.  VSP Trooper Ben Katz was instrumental in providing advice on beefing up the recording requirements and enforcement provisions.  The House Judiciary Committee held extensive hearings on our bill, H.287, and incorporated it into H.522, which passed the House and is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill now requires all “precious metal dealers,” defined as someone who has a physical presence in Vermont, either temporary or permanent, and is engaged in buying and selling precious metal (excluding bullion or commodities, new metal, and medical and dental applications), and who purchases or sells more than $2000 worth of precious metal in a 12 month period, to obtain a license.  The annual fee for the license is $200.  A license cannot be approved or renewed if the licensee commits a felony or violates any of the provisions in the law after October 13, 2013.  The “temporary presence” provision is important to capture those dealers who come into Vermont and set up shop on a weekend at a hotel or mall and then leave the state in a few days.

Licensees will be required to keep more detailed records of their transactions.  Each item they take in must be assigned a unique item number.  If several items are purchased at the same time from the same person, they are assigned a lot number, and each item is assigned a sub-lot number.  For each item or lot, the following information needs to be kept:

  • the amount paid and the date and time of the transaction,
  • the name, current address, phone number and vehicle license number of the seller,
  • a legible description of each item including any identifying marks,
  • a digital photograph or video of the item,
  • a photocopy or image of a government-issued ID card of the seller or, if no ID is available, a digital photo of the seller’s face, and
  • documentation of ownership or an affidavit of ownership.

Any dealer doing more than $50,000 of precious metal business in a year must keep these records in a computerized format that can be accessed by law enforcement when requested.

Some additional provisions include requiring a dealer to use a certified scale when buying precious metals by weight, to make all payments by check, draft or money order, and to hold the item for at least 10 days before selling it or moving it out of state.  Also, a dealer can no longer buy from an individual under 18 years of age without written permission of a parent or guardian.  Finally, if a dealer suspects illegal activity, they are required to notify local law enforcement authorities and provide the record of the transaction.  Violations of these provisions will incur substantial penalties, including $10,000 for the first offense and $50,000 for subsequent violations, so licensees will now be required to be bonded up to $50,000. 

Between the controlled substances provisions and the provisions described in this article, H.522 should provide important law enforcement tools that will hopefully curb much of the property crimes that have proliferated throughout Vermont.

I have heard from many of you on a variety of topics and continue to welcome your input. You can email me at or call me at 425-3960.