Alexandria police, moving to enforce controversial city licensing requirements, yesterday arrested a precious metals company employe and charged her with buying gold and silver illegally.
Patsy Miller, an employe of Hyattsville-based Precious Metals Specialists Inc.'s Alexandria branch, was charged with failing to obtain a second-hand dealer's permit and failing to keep proper records, both misdemeanors.
The maximum penalty for each charge is six months in jail and a $500 fine.
It was the second arrest in three months in Alexandria for employes of the company, which has criticized attempts to force dealers to obtain restrictive city business licenses like those required for pawn shops and junk dealers.
Company president William Bucks said yesterday's arrest grew out of police harassment of precious metals dealers.
But police defended their crackdown, saying the rapidly expanding market for gold and silver at today's high prices has contributed to a sharp increase in burglaries in the Washington area.
"Citizens are losing lots of money in burglaries when we know for a fact that some criminals" sell stolen items to legitimate gold and silver dealers, said police Capt. Andre Salyas. "They [burglars] are able to convert items to cash within 20 minutes after a burglary."
Bucks yesterday denied that his firm knowingly buys stolen goods. "Occasionally, a stolen piece does come through. Hopefully, we're going to help police" pinpoint such items, he said.
But police said Precious Metals Specialists, at 500 N. Washington St., had been uncooperative with investigators. "The last straw came when someone ordered an investigator out of the office," said police Sgt. Al Levesque. "That's when we decided to move."
Efforts by Alexandria officials to regulate the dealers have been hampered by the absence of an ordinance specifically governing the purchase of gold and silver.
Under the existing pawn shop license requirement, dealers are required to keep purchased merchandise in their stores for 10 days in order to give police a chance to check for possible stolen items.
But Bucks said the requirement is unrealistic in the gold and silver business and could cost a dealer serious losses. "The price of gold fluctuates every day," he said.
Alexandria city councilman Carlyle C. Ring Jr. said yesterday he plans to ask the council next week to tighten licensing requirements for precious metals dealers.
Virginia Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman, also has asked the General Assembly to change existing state laws governing gold and silver sales.