ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Pawnbroker Levi Touger tells reporters wanting to see the Lamborghini a Bernie Madoff victim hawked for quick cash that they needn’t bother stopping by. He doesn’t have it.
And, by the way, it was a Ferrari.
Touger’s Royal Pawn & Jewelry has made loans to some of the well-heeled Palm Beach investors caught in Madoff’s alleged $50 billion scam, turning his business into a bit of a media sensation as television crews inquire about filming the big-ticket booty. He says reports have overstated the items people were pawning, but not the income bracket of some of his more recent clients.
“People call me and say, ‘Levi, if I need you, what could I get?’,” he said.
But you won’t find Italian sports cars and yachts in the parking lot of Royal Pawn.
First, he couldn’t afford the insurance to keep stuff like that lying around. Second, he’s not a car dealer.
But he acknowledges that the financial meltdown has resulted in more people pawning off their belongings, which serve as collateral for the 60-day loans that Touger provides, with interest of course.
“Even the rich are having a credit crunch,” the bearded 29-year-old businessman said Wednesday from behind a case glittering with gaudy, oversized wristwatches, gold eagle pendants and diamond-studded stars of David.
Royal Pawn, with its iconic three neon balls in the front window, occupies the last spot in a nondescript strip mall anchored by a Home Depot. Except for the lack of bulletproof glass, it’s about what you’d expect from a pawn shop.
Rows of weed whackers and fishing rods hang from Royal Pawn’s ceiling, the walls are lined with electric guitars and surfboards, and pool cues share racks with samurai swords. A sandy-haired pit bull named Eva paces back and forth behind the counter, but she’s more interested in a scratch on the rump than a taste of flesh.
A sign on the wall offers “XXX movies $6.99 or 2 for $10.” Touger knows this isn’t the kind of place the “fancies” of Palm Beach would visit in person.
Things have been busy since Wall Street went haywire and the bottom dropped out of the housing market. Before the Madoff thing broke, someone with a black American Express card—a real rarity—came in for a loan.
People come to him for all kinds of reasons, Touger says. Maybe they made a risky deal and didn’t want to tell their spouse they couldn’t go to Vail for the holiday.
“I’m an alternative banker,” says Touger, wearing a black yarmulke beneath a tan Eddie Bauer ballcap. “The difference between me and them is in 60 days, I own a product.”
Touger claims he was misquoted earlier about some of the items he’d given loans for. He won’t say how much he’s lent or what he’s accepted as collateral.
“What can I say?” he says with a shrug. “Things you and I don’t see in Macy’s.”
There were certainly no high rollers in Royal Pawn on Wednesday.
In the afternoon, a man came in with a simple gold ring. He said his son was in the hospital, and he needed money for food.
Touger gave him $15.
“I have zero profit there,” Touger says. “The guy tells you, `My son’s sick. I can’t eat.’ What can I do?”
Beverly and Marvin Hoffman, recently transplanted to Boynton Beach from Marblehead, Mass., popped in to sell some old jewelry. As Touger looked over the pieces, a nearby TV played footage of Madoff fighting his way through a throng of reporters following a court hearing in New York.
The Hoffmans are friends of Palm Beach resident Bob Lappin, whose foundation pays to send Jewish youth to Israel. The foundation had to lay off its employees in the wake of the Madoff scandal.
“He’s not alone,” Marvin Hoffman said. “A lot of smart people got had. He (Madoff) oughta hang.”
Later, Touger lays out on the counter a 12-carat diamond tennis bracelet and an eye-popping ring covered in diamond baguettes.
“This became ours today,” he said. “That’s America. This is the real world.”