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Theft and drug addiction

Chances are you know someone who has had their car or home broken into, or you have had it happen to yourself.

KATU has learned there is a vast underground market of stolen goods and it is fueling an epidemic, the drug epidemic.

For many addicts, stealing is the only way they can support their habit and KATU's Anna Song set out to learn who is supporting them by buying stolen stuff.

Property crimes overwhelm local departments

"I was emotionally distraught, I felt invaded and I couldn't function," said burglary victim, Susie Ludlow.

It was a night Ludlow would never forget, coming home to find her back door shattered, her house ransacked and her most treasured possessions stolen.

"I mean, I lost something very precious, though not valuable, it's a ring that's been in our family since the 1500s, and that is irreplaceable," said Ludlow.

Feeding the Habit

The amazing thing is that what happened to Ludlow is not all that remarkable.

Stop anyone on the streets of the Northwest and you discover that using theft to fund drug addiction is a serious problem.

"That's usually how I support my habit, yeah" said recovering drug addict Gary Cobb.

KATU spoke with three people who have two things in common that contribute to the growing problem.

Derek, Arthur, and Gary are all recovering drug addicts that have committed crimes to pay for their addictions.

"Seven robberies in one night, all the way from here to Oregon City," said recovering drug addict Arthur Jacobs.

"Breaking and entering cars, businesses, a lot of shoplifting to fuel my drug habit," said Gary.

Recovering drug addict named 'Derek' told KATU "(I would) steal whole cars, from cars I would take anything from inside them that's worth anything, strip 'em down, seats, rims, tires, everything off them I could."

The three men explained that selling the stolen goods never seemed to be a problem.

"Easy! You could sell it anywhere, pawn shops, on the street," said Arthur. "It's easy to get rid of merchandise when you have to."

"A lot of times, you could just take something and trade it to someone that has dope, for example," said Gary.

"Car stereos, house stereos, pretty much any video component - you can sell at a pawn shop," said 'Derek.'

Do Pawnshops Play By The Rules?

Pawnshops that KATU checked paint a different picture.

"Less than .01 percent of our merchandise comes up stolen," said Steve Souza from All That Glitters Jewelry & Loan. "If something doesn't seem right or doesn't sound right, then nine times out of 10, we're going to stay away, because we don't want anybody stealing people's property and bringing it in to us."

Earl Oller, who is the owner of Silver Lining Jewelry & Loan in Northeast Portland, said that people confuse licensed pawnbrokers with second hand stores, which do not have to jump through as many hoops to stay in business.

"If nobody's there to check that they're doing things correctly, then who's to say that they're not," said Oller.

Both pawnshops and second hand stores are supposed to take sellers' state issued ID card or driver's license before buying from them, along with a fingerprint, and in some counties, a form declaring the item is not stolen.

"There's a handful of stores out there that clearly are not," said Sgt. Randy Day from the Portland Police Bureau. "They're working within the rules, but only to the extent that they feel they have to."

So KATU put a few second hand shops to the test. We bought a couple of used DVD players, and engraved initials on them to make it obvious they belonged to someone.

We then sent a KATU producer to one shop after another, to sell the DVD players, making sure not to present his ID.

The good news is that all of the shops turned him down.

So Where Do Stolen Goods End Up?

Police say stolen goods are often sold in flea markets.

At a flea market in southeast Portland, you can rent a table for $10 a day and sell anything you want, no questions asked.

You can also find just about anything on the Internet, like ebay.com, which is another place police said is popular with thieves.

So, in a variety of venues the cycle of crime winds on, feeding a drug culture that diminishes an area's quality of life.

"It's just a vicious cycle. I lost my wife, lost my kids," said Arthur.

"It's happened to everybody, it's happened to all my friends and you can't get away from it," said theft victim Patrick Vallicella.

The cycle steals the security victims once felt in their own home.

"It takes awhile to recover, it's not just something you get over," said Ludlow. "It takes a while to feel comfortable in your house again."

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