What happens in a stolen property dispute?
December 19, 2012 3:03 PM Subscribe
I run a business that sells used things. Someone came in and told me one of my used things was theirs. How do I proceed?
posted by anonymous to law & government (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I try to be as careful as possible, and only buy stuff from non-sketchy people, at yard sales, and so forth. In four or so years, I've never had an issue yet. I usually take an ID, but for this particular item, I just took her name and phone number (she gave me the cell phone number that she had just called from, where the caller ID that popped up on my phone was the name she gave me). I regret that, obviously.
Four weeks later, I have totally revamped the item. I originally paid $20 for it, I am selling it for $195 after putting in 5-6 hours of hard work and $25ish in supplies. A kind of crackhead-y but nice guy comes into my shop and says the item is his. His girlfriend sold off all his stuff (including multiple thousands of dollars in jewelry) while he was in prison, and he recognized it.
I told him that I was sorry, but that he'd have to file a police report and go through the proper channels. He was nice enough about it, and agreed. I don't want to look like a terrible business owner trafficking stolen goods (that's just what I need, as I'm somewhat new in town). He said maybe he'd contact his lawyer, too, and I said sure, whatever he felt like he needed to do to fix the problem, but I wasn't going to give the item back without any proof.
What do I do now? If the police come and tell me to give it to him, his $20 weather-beaten piece of crap is something he can now sell for nearly $200, and I'm out a ton of money and time - and I need that to pay my bills! I have obviously removed the item from the sales floor for now. Do I go ahead and remove the upgrades I put on it, as much as I can, just in case? (Some is easily removable, some takes time, some is just part of the piece now.) I wish I'd had the time to talk to him more - I wasn't here when he came in, my partner was, or I would have tried to see what he wanted out of the situation. I honestly would've just offered him $20 to make the issue go away if he thought that was fair.
As of now, I guess I just wait for the police? I'm assuming they'll have to make him jump through some hoops to prove the item's his and was not hers to sell - and he'll probably have to get his ex-girlfriend in quite a heap of trouble. If I do have to give the item back, do I go after the girl in small claims court? Can I ask him for the money in upgrades? I'm in MA, USA if that helps.
Someone, reassure me! If you've ever tried to get a stolen item back, what was the process like? Pawn shops and whatnot must go through this a lot, right?