You Be the Judge: Jewel Duel

What happens if a pawn shop sells stolen jewelry?


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On June 21, 2014, thieves burglarized Irene Danopulos’s home near Dayton, Ohio, and made off with her heirloom jewelry, including an emerald ring, brooch, and diamond bracelet that had belonged to her great grandmother.    On June 24, an out-of-state teenager sold her cherished jewelry, which she valued at $48,000, to American Trading pawn shop in Cincinnati for $2,125. In compliance with the Ohio Pawnbroker’s Act, American Trading reported the purchase to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and retained the jewelry for the requisite 15-day period, then disassembled them and sold the materials for $7,064.

On July 14, a Dayton detective finally traced the jewelry to American Trading and advised the pawn shop that the jewelry was stolen and Danopulos wanted it returned. But by then it was too late. American Trading refused, as it had already sold the jewelry.

Danopulos filed a lawsuit against American Trading for conversion — the wrongful use or withholding of someone else’s property to the exclusion of the owner — and demanded the return of the stolen jewelry or damages in the amount of $48,000. American Trading moved for a summary judgment claiming it had complied with the relevant portions of Ohio’s pawnbroker laws and had legal possession of the jewelry when it was sold. Danopulos opposed the summary judgment on the ground that compliance with the requisite 15-day waiting period did not give American Trading a superior claim to the stolen items against her claim as the true owner. She also moved to amend her complaint to add a cause of action based on negligence and receipt of stolen property statute.

In 2015, the trial court granted the summary judgment in favor of American Trading and denied Danopulos’s conversion amendment. In the decision, the court wrote that compliance with Ohio’s pawnbroker laws vested American Trading with ownership rights. Danopulos appealed.

How Would You Rule?

In 2016, the First District reversed the ruling, finding compliance with statutes alone doesn’t excuse American Trading if the goods were stolen. The case was returned to the trial court, which was instructed to enter judgment for Danopulos on the issue of liability and to determine her damages. Back in trial court, a jewelry expert offered that the emerald ring and brooch were worth at least $39,500.

American Trading appealed again, taking issue with Danopulos’ expert appraiser and arguing that the value of the damages should be measured by what it paid for the jewelry and the value when the scraps were sold.

In 2020, the court accepted the values offered by the expert and awarded Danopulos $31,500 for the emerald ring and $8,000 for the brooch. Because the expert offered no estimate for the diamond bracelet, the court didn’t award any compensation for the item.

Danopulos v. American Trading II, LLC, 2021

This article is featured in the November/December 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. It’s a shame Irene didn’t have this very valuable jewelry in a high security vault where it wouldn’t have been vulnerable to such burglary in the first place. She didn’t, unfortunately. I agree with her subsequent actions, but not of those by the trial court in 2015. Ms. Danopulos was definitely correct in appealing per their decision.

    I’m glad the First District reversed the earlier ruling, and the jewelry expert valued the emerald ring and brooch close to $40k. 4 years later (’20) she was awarded the $39.5k. It is too bad about the diamond bracelet though, as it’s value added on would have probably brought the entire award close to the original $48k amount.

    She didn’t do too badly money-wise, all things considered. Still, the trauma/violation of having items of strong sentimental value (in addition) stolen like that are terrible; never mind the the legal hassles that followed for 6 long years.


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