In the fall of 2017, security personnel for online and brick-and-mortar retailers along the Wasatch Front held a meeting with Utah law enforcement. The merchants were worried about pawnshops.
The retailers complained that a lot of brand-new, still-in-the-box merchandise was being sold at Wasatch Front pawnshops, according to documents describing the meeting. Representatives from eBay, documents say, warned especially about one pawnshop — Xtreme Pawn in West Jordan. Officials with eBay said at the time that 58% percent of that shop’s online sales with eBay listed the merchandise as new.
The meeting has resulted in a crackdown on a number of pawnshops in Salt Lake and Utah counties, and criminal charges filed last week. The Utah Attorney General’s Office charged the manager at Xtreme Pawn, John Michael Jones, 40, with eight felonies, including counts of receiving stolen property and Utah’s equivalent of racketeering.
Neither Jones nor his attorney returned messages seeking comment Tuesday. The defendant has not yet entered a plea and has been issued a summons to appear in state court in West Jordan on Sept. 6.
The charges against Jones are the result of an investigation that has gone on for almost two years. In June 2018, law enforcement served search warrants on Xtreme Pawn in West Jordan and six other pawnshops. The Utah Attorney General’s Office later filed motions to seize more than $1 million in new property found while executing those warrants.
All of those pawnshops belong to people affiliated with the polygamous Kingston Group, also known as the Davis County Cooperative Society, or the Latter Day Church of Christ, business records show. The group has not been discussed in the court documents in the case. A spokesman for the Davis County Cooperative Society has repeatedly said members are encouraged to follow the law.
Chris Walden, executive officer of investigations division at the Attorney General’s Office, said detectives are looking only at pawnshops, nothing related to the Kingston Group.
As part of their pawnshops probe, Walden said, undercover investigators tried to sell still-in-the-box merchandise at some pawnshops and were turned away.
“There are a number of pawnshops," Walden said Tuesday, "that absolutely toe the line, and our investigation revealed that.”
The criminal charges filed against Jones describe him as knowing merchandise arriving at the pawnshop he managed was stolen and not caring. In the first half of 2018, charges say, undercover officers “conducted 19 successful transactions” at Xtreme Pawn, including the sale of still-in-the-box items and valuable household items. Store staff asked “very little, if any questions,” the charges say. (The charges say Xtreme Pawn rejected the agents three times.)
In one transaction, charging documents say, agents sold Xtreme Pawn a Milwaukee impact wrench that was still in the box and had an anti-theft device on it called a “spider wire.” The staff removed the wire and bought the $169 wrench for $50, according to documents.
Pawnshops are supposed to make entries into a statewide database describing the items pawned, who sold them to the shop and when. Agents reviewed that database to find individuals who sold hundreds of items to Xtreme Pawn through the years. Six of those individuals, including two located at the Salt Lake County jail, charges say, said Jones knew the merchandise they were selling was stolen.
Some of the informants said they talked openly with Jones about their drug addictions and how they stole most of what they sold him, the documents say. One informant alleged to investigators that Jones told her what kind of gift cards to steal from Dick’s Sporting Goods and what kind of vacuums to steal from Target.
Jones is described as a manager at Xtreme Pawn. The registered owners did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.
Xtreme Pawn was still in business Tuesday. Walden said either the state or the city of West Jordan could pursue closing the pawnshop, but so far there have been no such efforts.