ST. PETERSBURG — Robert Windheim was elated when police recovered the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays American League Championship ring someone stole from his home in July.
The ring was pawned days after it was stolen and the pawnshop still had it. Windheim figured the next step would be easy: Ask the pawnshop to give it back.
No problem, said R&W Pawn and Jewelry in Clearwater, but only if Windheim paid $350 to cover half the money it paid for the ring.
Windheim refused and has gone to court to force the shop to return the ring, no strings attached.
It doesn't happen very often, but filing a lawsuit is what state law requires to recover stolen merchandise from a pawnshop.
Most people just pay up to avoid the hassle and legal expense of a lawsuit. In January, the St. Petersburg Times told Karen Hadidi's story of paying a pawnshop $55 for a camera someone stole from her.
But Windheim thinks there's a principle at stake, says his attorney Roy L. Glass of St. Petersburg. "There's no requirement that he has to pay half to get his own ring back," Glass said.
And that's true. But pawnshops say they provide a valuable service and it's not fair for them to be victimized, too.
Scott A. Richardson, 41, of Clearwater is accused of stealing Windheim's ring. Richardson was working for New Tech Pest Control of Palm Harbor when he was accused of taking the ring as he sprayed for bugs at Windheim's St. Petersburg condo on July 12.
Windheim, a sales manager for the Rays, puts the value of the ring at $3,600. It has 18 diamonds on top and his name engraved on it.
The pawnshop paid $695 for it.
Walter Orkisz, co-owner of the pawnshop, said people usually are willing to pay to reclaim their belongings and avoid a lawsuit.
"Mr. Windheim … has a lot of time and money to waste, and he'd rather go through the court system and waste the court system's time than pay me a few hundred bucks and get his stuff back," he said.
If Richardson is convicted, a judge could order him to pay restitution, Orkisz says. That way, no one is victimized.
"I'm not the guy who let the exterminator into his house," Orkisz said. "And I'm not the person responsible for the theft of his item."
Orkisz says if his shop wasn't so diligent in following state law, Windheim would never have known his ring had been pawned.
Under state law, a pawnshop is required to file paperwork with police documenting every item it buys. Sellers are required to show ID and provide fingerprints and a signature. All that is filed with police, and that's how St. Petersburg detectives tracked down Windheim's ring.
Orkisz said it's unfair if pawnshops are victimized, too.
Now, it's up to a judge to decide.
Windheim's suit is scheduled for a pretrial hearing Thursday.