Downtown Port Angeles merchant arrested after stolen property sting

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PORT ANGELES — A downtown merchant who allegedly bought “obviously stolen” jewelry has been arrested for investigation of second-degree stolen-property possession and first-degree stolen-property trafficking, both felonies, the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office said.

Michael Allen VanAusdle, owner of Port Angeles Antique Mall at 109 W. First St., remained in the Clallam County jail Saturday with no bond set.

VanAusdle, 51, was arrested at his place of business at about 2 p.m. Friday, said Sgt. John Keegan of the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office in a statement.

The arrest followed a stolen-property sting operation by a multi-agency burglary task force.

“On more than one occasion, Michael VanAusdle purchased items he was told were stolen,” Keegan said in the statement, adding that the transactions occurred at a consignment store VanAusdle operates in downtown Port Angeles.

Keegan said Saturday that VanAusdle was one of several gold and silver buyers recently approached by undercover operatives with the intent of selling stolen jewelry, though Keegan declined to give the exact number of merchants.

“But [VanAusdle] was the only one that knowingly accepted obviously stolen property,” Keegan said.

The operation was prompted by reports that jewelry stolen in about 30 summertime burglaries in Port Angeles and Sequim had been purchased by local gold and silver buyers, Keegan said.

Detectives had been told that jewelry stolen during the residential burglaries had been sold locally, Keegan said.

“According to the burglary suspects, they were doing this to finance their controlled substances” addictions, he said.

Keegan said all the summertime burglaries were related to funding addictions to illegal drugs, such as methamphetamine and heroin, and that jewelry theft has become a popular way to fuel such habits.

Keegan said the jewelry that undercover officers attempted to sell was not actually stolen but had been purchased by Clallam County for use in the sting operation.

The burglary task force is made up of detectives from area agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office and the Port Angeles and Sequim police departments.

“Operations of this nature and business compliance checks will continue to make sure that those who purchase items targeted by burglars are operating legitimately,” Keegan said.

Over the past few years, jewelry has taken the place of small electronics as one of the most popular items to steal because of how easy it is to resell and because of rising gold and silver prices, Keegan explained.

Keegan said the operation that resulted in VanAusdle’s arrest is an attempt to impede jewelry thieves from making money off their spoils.

“If we take away that ease from them, hopefully, we’ll slow it down and make it easier to catch more burglars,” Keegan said.

Trafficking in stolen property in the first degree is a Class B felony, while second-degree possession of stolen property is a Class C felony.

Last modified: February 16. 2013 5:53PM
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