Pawnshop owner held in theft case

The Baltimore Sun

A pawnshop owner in Glen Burnie was arrested and his business shut down after police found hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of jewelry hidden in backroom safes, including a $45,000 diamond ring that had been stolen from an 88-year-old Montgomery County woman, police said yesterday.

Lee Harold Graham, 59, of the 3400 block of Pinkney Road in Northwest Baltimore has been charged with 15 criminal counts that include failure to keep proper records and reports, theft, possession of stolen property and giving false statements to police officers. He was arrested last week and released on bail.

Police said that an investigation began in Montgomery County with jewelry thefts from homes whose owners were having work done on heating and air conditioning units. A check of pawn records led detectives to B&A; Pawn Shop in the 7600 block of Baltimore Annapolis Blvd., where they asked Graham for property connected to thefts and specifically demanded the 4-carat diamond ring.

According to charging documents, Graham said that the ring had been sold; he later claimed to have recovered it from a dealer in Philadelphia but produced a different ring that was a different cut and worth considerably less.

Police searched the business May 14 and found the ring in a locked safe, along with 1,700 other pieces of jewelry that were not properly tagged or reported to law enforcement, according to reports. Pawn shop owners are required to keep a detailed inventory and a record of people who pawn items, including their names and addresses.

The property seized by police is estimated to be worth more than $250,000, police said yesterday. Graham could not be reached for comment.

Montgomery County police said they are still investigating the thefts from the homes. But Anne Arundel County court records show that a suspect, a 30-year-old Pasadena man, helped to identify the jewelry, saying that "that he was sorry for what he did and wanted to make the situation right and get the victims their jewelry back."

The man identified some of the jewelry as having been taken from a live-in housekeeper at one of the victims' homes, and recognized an Egyptian pendant as being taken from a "nice old lady." He also said that the ring Graham had turned over was not the one that he had stolen, according to court records.

Steven Melman, whose mother, Lillian, had the ring stolen from her Rockville home in March, said that the family was thrilled to have the jewelry back. He said that the ring was actually two rings, given as engagement and wedding gifts, and fused together in a diamond setting with baguettes on each side. The Egyptian pendant, purchased during a trip to the Nile, was also taken from her.

"It's very scary for an older woman - they're always asking help from people with property, plumbing, heating. You expect these people to do good," said Melman, 61. "She thought the ring was gone forever. She was very depressed."

A county police detective wrote in charging documents that he had received numerous complaints from other pawnshops and victims over the past three years about B&A; Pawn's business practices, including concerns about reporting of pawned items and storage and holding of precious metal objects.

A records check showed that B&A; Pawn was operating without a license, having let it lapse April 30. Officials at the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation also said that two of Graham's employees were not licensed through the state to conduct precious metal transactions or supervise directly the buying and selling of precious metal objects.

During the raid on his business, an officer observed Graham reach into one of the safes, grab something, and place it in his pocket. He was ordered to empty his pockets, and pulled out the ring that was the target of the search warrant. "Here is the ring you are looking for," Graham said, according to court records.

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