A year ago Harold E. Wirth returned to his Montgomery County home to find that "all my silver, jewelry, radios, televisions were stolen." None of Wirth's goods were recovered. Wirth and his wife haven't recovered either.
"If any of you have ever been burgled, you know what my wife has been going through" since the burglary, said Wirth, who described himself as "an experienced burglarized homeowner and taxpayer in Maryland." Burglary "makes almost a nervous wreck out of your spouse."
Wirth was one of 35 burglary victims and precious-metals dealers to testify at a hearing on a dozen bills to restrict the sale of gold, silver, platinum and other high-theft items in the state. The bills were introduced late last year as a result of rising gold and silver prices that also increased the incidence of theft of precious-metal goods by so-called silver gangs.
The legislation also takes on special significance as a result of the death of Dr. Michael Halberstam late last year allegedly at the hands of accused master thief Bernard C. Welch. Welch is accused of stealing about $4 million in silver, gold and platinum items as well as electronic goods from Washington-area homeowners.
Nearly all of the 12 bills discussed today were introduced by Montgomery County and Prince George's County legislators.
The bills would require detailed licensing of sellers of precious-metals goods, stones, antiques and other second-hand property such as televisions, radios and stereos. Dealers would have to keep records of persons selling the goods, sometimes including their age, sex, race, height, weight and other descriptions. The dealers also would have to hold the goods for between 10 days and a month without altering or selling them, according to the proposed legislation. In this way, if a dealer bought stolen property, the victim would have a chance to try to recover the goods.
Del. Kay G. Bienan (D-Laurel) said that she cosponsored a similar bill in the previous session but that it got nowhere. "Since my testimony last year" on the bill, "my silver's gone, too," Bienan said. "Obviously it's that important, or we wouldn't have these many bills this year."
Bienan said that when her silver was stolen, Laurel had a law, which later was rescinded, requiring dealers to hold the goods they buy for five days before altering or selling them. The dealer who bought Bienan's silver flatware and serving utensils from a minor had kept a log of the sale and paid the minor $210, she said.The dealer had kept her silver for five days, but on the sixth day, when it had been traced, it already had been melted, she said.