Indianapolis flea markets hit with tough new law aimed at stolen goods

Flea markets subject to same rules as pawn shops

INDIANAPOLIS - The flea market business is changing dramatically in Indianapolis as the City-County Council took aim at stolen goods from burglaries ending up for sale on shelves throughout the city.

The council passed a new law  Monday night forcing operators of flea markets to collect fingerprints from anyone who sells them electronics and other hot items among thieves. The new law also bans the sale of medical devices or pharmaceuticals, as well as any product with an expiration date.

With a 25-2 vote, the council imposed the same list of anti-theft regulations that have governed the pawn shop industry for years in Indianapolis and many other cities. A spokesman for Mayor Greg Ballard said the mayor would be signing the ordinance Tuesday.

Councilor Brian Mahern, D-16th District, the council’s vice president and chair of the Rules and Public Policy Committee, said the new law makes violations easier to track for flea markets, similar to the way pawn shops are regulated in the city.

Councilor LeRoy Robinson, D-At Large, told his fellow councilors on Monday night that the law was needed because so many items stolen from home break-ins were ending up on the shelves of flea markets throughout the Indianapolis area. In some neighborhoods, he said, pawn shops are carefully tracked and therefore unable to sell stolen goods, while flea markets right next door had the stolen goods on their shelves.

The law requires all flea market operators to apply for and receive a license from the city if they plan to sell so-called “regulated items” such as electronics, jewelry, sports equipment, video games, musical instruments, tools or anything with a serial number.

Those licensed flea markets are then required to collect information from anyone who sells them such items, similar to regulations already in effect for pawn shops. 

The law requires flea market operators to collect a thumb print from the seller, and keep records of the person’s driver license or other photo identification.  It also requires a ledger be kept with a description of what the person looks like and the license tag on the vehicle they were driving.

Finally, the law requires that “regulated items” cannot be sold until 10 days after the information about the seller and the item is submitted to a police database. It also spells out that no licensed flea market operator can buy anything from a minor or any person who appears to be intoxicated.

Victoria Fayette, with Crazy Birds Flea Market on Southeastern Avenue, said her business has already been voluntarily taking the kinds of precautions that the new ordinance requires.

"Just for some protection," Fayette said. "People come in all the time wanting to sell us stuff, but a lot of times we just turn them away because we're just worried about the hassle."

The measure was introduced before the City-County Council on June 4 by Council President Maggie Lewis, D-7th District.

No flea market operators or any other citizen spoke before the full council meeting prior to Monday night’s final vote.

Two Republican councilors voted against the new law, but it passed regardless.  Neither Councilor Robert Lutz, R-13th District, nor Councilor Jason Holliday, R-22nd District, explained their votes against the measure on council’s floor.

Certain flea markets are exempt from the new law, including charities and non-profits and any flea market operating temporarily at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the Marion County Fairgrounds or the Indiana Convention Center. Garage sales are also exempt from the law, as are flea markets that last for 30 days or fewer.

Flea market operators who are caught breaking the new law can be fined $200 per day.

In August 2010,Metro police raided four flea markets that they said were dealing as fencing operations for Indianapolis burglary rings. Some of the high-dollar items were purchased for pennies on the dollar and then shipped overseas.

"These place in the past, like I said, made it so easy to walk in off the street with anything and get quick cash for it," said IMPD spokesman Mike Hewitt.


Metro police and the mayor's office said they're also setting their sights on regulations for businesses that buy gold and precious metals.
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