By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — Pine Avenue pawn star Ruben Longoria was back in court Wednesday and pleading not guilty to charges he's been doing business without a license.
The well-known owner of El Casino Buy and Sell entered his plea to five city code violations of conducting a business without a second-hand dealer license. He'll return to City Court on March 24 for a hearing on those charges.
Longoria, 57, 2008 Pine Ave., Apt. 2, has already been convicted twice of trafficking in stolen property out of his store and once with dealing drugs there. City officials and Falls police have said they want Longoria's operation shut down, but struggled to explain how he remained open after his license wasn't renewed in 2012.
At that time city cops objected to Longoria's license renewal request because of the amount of stolen property that appeared to be passing through his business.
"There were some on-going (law enforcement) investigations and they might have been (compromised) if his business was shut," Mayor Paul Dyster said. "So a decision was made to let him operate (while the investigations were under way)."
Just over two weeks ago, Longoria was sentenced to five years of probation for his guilty plea to charges of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property in November. He had faced a possible five-year prison stay, but Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas gave him a probation sentence instead.
The pleas had stemmed from a deal with prosecutors, who recommended the probation sentence in return for the plea.
In the aftermath of his sentencing, police said the convictions could be used to shutter Longoria’s El Casino Buy and Sell. Days later, the Gazette confirmed police and lawyers from the city Corporation Counsel’s office met to discuss pulling Longoria’s license to do business.
It was then, that city lawyers told police that Longoria didn’t have a second-hand dealer license and hadn’t had one since after his 2011 stolen property conviction.
In October 2011, the owner of a Falls construction company told police he was driving by El Casino Buy & Sell when he spotted heavy construction equipment, for sale, sitting on the front lawn. When he stopped and took a closer look at the equipment, the businessman discovered it was a hammer lauler/breaker, gas post digger and Lincoln mig welder that had been stolen from his company’s storage shed in July 2010.
The shed was entered after someone broke a padlock off. The heavy equipment and other items were then taken.
The business owner said he went inside and told Longoria that the equipment he was trying to sell was stolen. Longoria told the victim to “go get proof and bring it back.”
The victim told investigators that when he returned to El Casino the next day, with the proof of ownership Longoria requested, the equipment was gone.
Longoria told the victim “he left the (equipment) out front” and didn’t know what had happened to it.
In that case, detectives charged Longoria with a felony stolen property count and he eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge.
When Longoria’s, then current, second-hand dealer license come up for renewal in 2012, police opposed it. The license expired, but Longoria kept on doing business out of his Pine Avenue store front.