Thursday, December 8, 2011
Residential break-ins and burglaries are up on the Peninsula, and Monterey Police Department Detective Michael Bruno says brown powder and gold jewelry are to blame.
Since Jan. 1, MPD has made 43 arrests for possession or crimes committed under the influence of heroin, which officers are finding most often in its snortable or smokeable “Mexican brown” powdered form. “The power of the drug overrides the power of common sense,” Bruno says.
So does its price: A gram goes for between $60-$100. So increasingly, smack-addled thieves are targeting gold. “The price of gold is sky-high right now,” says Seaside Police Cmdr. Judy Stradan.
The rate this week is just over $1,700 per ounce, and ads offering to buy gold are ubiquitous.
At least 10 Peninsula residential burglaries this year were committed by several heroin addicts from Monterey and Seaside, according to Bruno. Their preferred stolen goods: electronics and gold jewelry.
Seaside’s been hit especially hard, with 148 reported thefts, robberies and property crimes in the past six months. Stradan says the number of thefts has more than doubled in the past year.
Seaside Deputy Police Chief Louis Lumpkin says most burglars aren’t drug users – “It’s more everyday opportunists” – but plenty of addicts are stealing to pay for their pricey habit. Seaside’s seen an upswing not in heroin use, he adds, but in its synthetic incarnation, the prescription painkiller OxyContin.
“It’s a pretty select group that gets into oxy and heroin,” Lumpkin says.
Peninsula police have been nabbing mostly 18 – to 25-year-olds for heroin and oxy-related crimes. Bruno says Monterey’s seen a dip in OxyContin-related arrests since pharmaceutical companies changed the drug’s formula last year to strengthen the pill’s coating, making it harder to crush into powder.
But it’s still strong enough to provoke desperate acts. Just last week, 30-year-old Brett Vossler of Seaside held up Ordway Drugstore on Monterey’s Alvarado Street and stole OxyContin and morphine. Vossler then locked himself into the neighboring Old Monterey Cafe bathroom, shattered the mirror and fell silent. When police broke in 50 minutes later, he was unresponsive; he died at CHOMP that afternoon.
While addicts look for their next fix, spiking gold prices are keeping buyers busy. “We’re getting a lot more people selling gold than we used to,” says Oscar Anguiano of Seaside Trading Post. The display cases below him are filled with gold necklaces and rings.
The Broadway Avenue pawn shop, along with other licensed gold buyers, requires sellers to present valid identification and submit fingerprints and signatures, which are passed on to the police.
The problem now, police say, is the rise in unlicensed gold dealers buying chains and coins from thieves seeking quick cash, then selling it to melters days later, destroying the stolen goods before police can track them down.
Last August, Seaside police arrested Hildeberto Martinez, the owner of Joyeria Latina on Santa Barbara Street, for illegal gold buying. Lumpkin says the department continues to investigate suspicious dealers and scrutinize new applications for gold-buying licenses.
Buyers are required to keep merchandise for 30 days, allowing police to corroborate stolen property reports with pawn shop receipts.
“The legitimate buyers help us stay on top of it,” Lumpkin says. “Gold places are not asking a lot of questions.”