Plant City pawn shop that sold veteran's diamonds faces state regulators

PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) - A Plant City pawn shop that got rid of a veteran's diamond rings - after two years and $1,300 in payments - is now under investigation by state regulators.

Our 8 On Your Side investigation received the attention of the Plant City Police Department and now investigators with Florida's Department of Agriculture. They want to know when the rings were sold and whether Pawn Express violated any regulations. This case opens the door for regulators to look into the entire business - not just this case.

Here's how this saga started:

Army veteran Ronnie Duffey made a bad decision two years ago, and it cost him his sister's diamond wedding rings. "Everything just fell apart and we couldn't afford anything," he said.

Desperate for cash, and with his sister's permission, Duffey dropped off her diamond wedding rings at Pawn Express in Plant City. He took out a $200 loan and paid interest of $50 every month. It has been two years, and Duffey paid $1,300.

Last week, he went back to Pawn Express to pay off his $300 balance and pick up the rings. But they were gone.

"They can't find them," Duffey said he was told.

He said the pawn shop owner told him, "I'm sorry. They should be there. There's no reason they should be gone."

Duffey turned to 8 On Your Side, but owner Marie Polk had no answers. At first, she said she doesn't know where the rings were. Then she said Duffey was in default and that on Dec. 28 they were sent off to be "scrapped."

Polk insists Duffey was in default, even though his receipt does not show that. She could not say how much he was in default.

The law requires a pawn shop to hold goods for at least 60 days, and then for 30 days after the second default, before the shop can keep the goods, according to Plant City police.

"The law says you have to have a record," Duffey said. "So if you all of a sudden come up with the idea that maybe you'll pull them, then why do you keep taking payments?"

Attorney Howard Stitzel is representing Pawn Express and told 8 On Your Side Duffey was in default and the shop had the legal right to sell off the rings on Dec. 28. Duffey missed a payment early in his pawn agreement that put him behind, Stitzel explained. The shop had the right, the lawyer said, to keep collecting payments as long as it wanted and had the right to end that arrangement on Dec. 28.

That was five days after the shop accepted Duffey's last payment of $50.

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