In 2010 a new contender took Tru TV by storm — a show about a father, Les Gold, and his two adult children Ashley and Seth. It was called Hardcore Pawn. The title is a pretty obvious play on words, and in fact, this is kind of their schtick. The Golds are known for controversy, so taking an interesting, to say the least, name fit right up their ally.
The show is set in the family’s native Detroit, MI. Filming happens during store hours when the family and their assorted cast of characters are around. The cast of Hardcore Pawn includes three security guards, a large employee pool, upper managers (including Ashley and Seth), and of course the zany — ranging on deranged — customers.
They take off their shirts, they snatch weaves, and they kick, bite, and swear. Their pawn shop, American Jewelry and Loan, is the Jerry Springer of reality TV (because Jerry Springer isn’t really reality TV). From stealing to sibling rivalry to Dr. Kevorkian’s “deathmobile,” this family puts their dysfunction on primetime TV for the world to see.
With that out of the way, here are the 15 Dark Secrets From Hardcore Pawn You Had No Idea About.
15. One manager got fired and was given his own competing reality show
In the season 5 finale of Hardcore Pawn, a manager who had been with the store for over 20 years was fired for a minor infraction. His name is Rich Pyle, and he had become a fan favorite on the show since the 2010 premiere.
He started working at the store right out of high school and, when he was not buying others and selling valuables, Rich was in a rock band called SuperLast — which explains his ostentatious facial hair.
So what brought on this sudden firing? After a few small slip-ups when Les was in a particularly bad mood, Rich was let go in traditional melodramatic Hardcore Pawn fashion.
After being let go, however, the National Geographic Channel didn’t skip a beat in casting Rich to star in their 2013 reality TV show: Meltdown of the Ice Planet. While this opportunity only lasted a year, Rich seems to now be focusing on his music and a clothing line, RPMGear, with partner Darren Hamilton of Detroit Muscle.
14. Hardcore Pawn has a fierce ongoing feud with Pawn Stars
While many copycats followed the reality TV goldmine that was Pawn Stars, none even touched their success until the Golds hit the scene. Critics say that Hardcore Pawn is a blatant ripoff of Pawn Stars, but the items they take vary a lot and the tone is much different, as the Golds being a bit more controversial/sensationalist.
From gynaecologist exam tables to gold teeth, Hardcore Pawn certainly has a colorful clientele. Pawn Stars, on the other hand, usually features historical or autographed pop culture items — more along the lines of an edgier Antiques Roadshow than an outtake of Maury Povich.
When a radio host asked Les if he had any relationship with the cast of Pawn Stars in 2012, their feud came up. Gold said that he’d tried to visit them when he was in Vegas, but got snubbed. “We went there once, called them [saying that] we were coming, and they never waited for us,” Gold said with some disdain. “I think they’re scared of us. We’re badder than they are. And more fit.”
13. Les Gold buys Dr. Kevorkian’s “deathmobile” and sells it to a reality TV ghosthunter
Dr. Jack Kevorkian, also known as Dr. Death, is infamous for his role as an advocate for doctor assisted suicide in the ‘90s. He carried out an estimated 130 assisted suicides with his medically-equipped white 1968 Volkswagen Microbus. The van no longer runs and is heavily worn and rusted out. However, the odometer reads at 18,732 miles.
Some paperwork found inside the van shows that Kevorkian sold the car to a Volkswagen parts yard for $150 in 1997. Les Gold and co bought Kevorkian’s “deathmobile” for considerably more — $20,000 from an undisclosed local businessman.
The van was kept on layaway with regular payments being made for some time but eventually ownership fell to the Golds. Soon after, Zak Bagans of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures paid $32,500 for the microbus, presumably for the benefit of his show.
12. Racism and insulting customers based on appearances
Les and his grown children have the nasty habit of insulting difficult customers based on their looks, weight, age, and race. Race has been a particular problem, with the show being criticized for going out of its way to make fun of black customers who show any difficulty, coaching them or manipulating the footage in order to make them seem more absurd and stereotypical. Such issues play into the racial politics of Detroit, where the show is set.
Others complain that, what the camera shows of the surrounding area is a sanitized version of Detroit, which might add as cover against the racial issues at work. Others claim that the “ruin porn” of the city is featured too prominently and that it’s actually a very nice area to live in. Either way, no one’s happy with the show’s presentation of the Detroit community.
11. Numerous accounts of the show being scripted
For any reality show, one question gets asked frequently: is it faked, and if so, how much of it is faked? There’s even a video of the Les and Ashley addressing the question directly. “Our show gets filmed at American Jewelry and Loan when we are open from 9:30-6, six days a week. We are 100% real. We work at the store — we are real. We are real people, we’re not actors!”
One article in particular on The South End has lambasted the show for it’s manipulated footage of the surrounding area, stating that the people come into a somewhat staged looking scenes, speaking flatly and using nervous dialogue.
It has been suggested that perhaps the stagey-ness is not planned beforehand and is simply a symptom of the presence of cameras creating affected reactions in people. However, it is hard to know, as many reality TV shows are in fact scripted.
10. SO MANY physical fights with customers
While there are bodyguards on the premises to prevent things from getting too out of hand, the customers are not shy about getting angry about disagreements amongst each another as well as with the staff. Weaves have been pulled, faces scratched, and many a rib has been punched on camera at American Jewelry and Loan. Sometimes these attacks are provoked, sometimes not.
The worst offender of all is perhaps patriarch Les Gold himself, who launched himself at a customer who sexually harassed his daughter Ashley. There have been other notable incidents, however, usually it involves a bodyguard standing between Les and the customer, then dragging the kicking aggressor out of the shop as Les gets in some jabs along the way.
9. Ashley struck out on her own and betrayed the family business
Ashley Gold spent nine seasons on her family’s popular reality TV show only to leave her father and brother in order to break out on her own. The former manager of the jewelry counter at American Jewelry and Loan has started an online jewelry pawning business with her own website.
In addition to the site, she also has an accompanying podcast. “It’s true, I left the pawn shop!” Gold told Detroit Free Press. “This is my thing now — I’m the pawn chick. I was born and raised in a pawn shop, [so] I know… jewelry. Everyone has always seen the rough and tumble side of me, but now people will see a new side of me.”
She claimed that she wanted to leave for health reasons and so that she could spend more time with her husband and two children. “There’s not a lot of women in the pawn shop industry, so I’m sure I always stood out in that sense,” she said.
8. Did Ashley leave the show due to bullying from the customers and her own family?
Ashley Gold/Broad started in the pawn business at the age of 7, coming in with her dad to work on Saturdays when the other kids would go out and play with friends. Working with her father in the family business was always her dream, but she was never treated with much respect by the customers, let alone her father and brother.
Ridiculed about her weight and her competency have plagued her interactions with customers at the store and even among her family. So when did Ashley finally decide to quit? Was it when customers called her sexist epitaphs and leered at her in the store?
Or perhaps when her father favorited her cousin Karen over his own daughter, or was it when her brother bought a billboard promising customers a discount if they got Ashley to quit the business? Perhaps she left because of all of it. Since leaving the show she’s lost a considerable amount of weight as well — one can only assume her mental health has also improved from being out of such a toxic environment.
7. Their employees are caught stealing A LOT
In a pawn shop, it’s not uncommon for disgruntled customers to try getting away with theft, and thus it’s also not uncommon for them to be caught selling stolen merchandise. However, finding thieves among the staff of Hardcore Pawn is a far more serious situation.
One member of staff, Christina, was taken away by the police in handcuffs after she laundered some money from the jewelry counter. Another notable incident happened to Ashley’s mortal enemy, former employee Tressa. Originally, Ashley advocated for Tressa and was responsible for getting her hired in the first place.
However, the relationship steadily deteriorated until Tressa, still a new hire, was caught taking items out of the safe without permission and putting them for sale online. She wasn’t taken away in handcuffs like Christina, but it seems as if some files were charged and then dropped.
6. Chicago spinoff show gets canned after stealing controversy
The success of Hardcore Pawn led to a spinoff show called Hardcore Pawn: Chicago. The show featured the owners of Royal Pawn Shop. At one point, the owners noticed that jewelry, Rolex watches, and other valuables were mysteriously disappearing from the store.
Eventually it came out that two of their employees, Jeremy Jackson and Karl Bell, had been stealing. Over $40K worth of goods were looted to pay for gambling money, and this amount is still being recovered.
Those aren’t the only controversies that the store had to face, however. At one point a store security guard was found dead. As a result of these and other major missteps, Tru TV canceled the Cohen’s show. However, this may have also been because they weren’t as entertaining as the Golds.
5. They were caught in a million dollar stolen art controversy
At one point, the show documented a sticky situation involving some stolen art being sold to the store for over a million dollars. Luckily, before Les closed the deal, the real owner of the art called in and clarified what exactly had happened.
The story goes that Tony and Dina, the people trying to sell the art behind the back of the original owner, had claimed that Les was a family friend of theirs and could get them a good deal on the art (this was untrue, they had never met prior to this transaction).
With Les enthused about the art and about to get it authenticated as one last step before buying, he gave them a number as a first step in bargaining for the paintings. They ended up telling the original owner that they were getting it for far less and pocketed the rest of the money.
4. The Golds have faced rampant anti-semitism
It’s no surprise that a Jewish family has faced some flack for their vocation as money lenders. Even the casual insult from a customer can launch a full-scale freakout from Les Gold.
Seth spoke about it in an interview with Forward, stating: “You have to understand that we’re in a business where people can take out their aggressions on us, whether they use anti-Semitic [language] or something else. When people come here, they’re not in a good place. They’re desperate, and we can’t take anything people say to heart.”
This is a diplomatic answer to counter his father’s more visceral reaction. However, the most powerful criticism of this family actually seems to be coming in the form of a dialogue within the Jewish community about perpetuating such stereotypes. While Forward gave them respect, JewSchool called them an embarrassment.
3. Seth Gold was looking to buy Deflategate NFL balls to capitalize off of the controversy
Seth Gold made a statement to TMZ Sports stating that he’d pay up to $20,000 for one of the balls at the center of the New England Patriots’ “Deflategate” scandal. As a fan of Tom Brady, he wanted to capitalize off of the controversy. Gold then went on record saying that he didn’t think the NFL would be selling those balls. Perhaps this could be because they had a modicum of tact.
The Deflategate scandal involved the New England Patriots deliberately inflating their balls against the Indianapolis Colts during the 2014-2015 NFL playoffs so that they could gain an illegal advantage in the game. Seth was thus adamant about buying these Deflategate NFL balls in order to draw in some publicity.
2. The infamous in-store sting operation
Who could forget the dramatic moment when beloved Hardcore Pawn security guard Joel “Big Joe” Shannon was caught stealing on hidden camera? When suspicions were growing as to how various items were going missing in the store, Les decided that he was going to catch the culprit red-handed.
A diamond ring was left as bait with a hidden camera pointed at it. Then all they had to do was wait and, sure enough, the next day it was gone. So who was seen on the tape nabbing it? None other that their own head of security, Big Joe. (However, Les argued that the white guard “couldn’t have done it.”)
Les said that, when asked outright, Joe owned up to the crime and pulled out an assortment of jewelry from his pocket, which estimated at over $7,000. Needless to say, Les called the cops on the man who had been his head of security for three years. Joe was marched out in front of everyone in handcuffs, disgraced and humiliated as Ashley swore at him, on the verge of tears.
1. A Hardcore Pawn customer was killed in a showdown with the police
Officers at the scene say that they had been responding to a 3:30am 911 call only to find David Kapuscinski attacking his girlfriend. When they warned him, Kapuscinski still refused to comply and was tasered twice. He died as a result. Concern was raised as to Kapuscinski’s mental stability after a video of him attempting to intimidate Seth Gold on Hardcore Pawn surfaced from two years earlier.
Kapuscinski’s girlfriend — who wished to remain nameless — says that she and her children loved him and that there were no previous incidents of domestic violence. In fact, she claimed that her boyfriend of six months had been loving, and supported her emotionally and financially so that she could go back to college.
According to the girlfriend, he woke up from a nightmare and had a nervous breakdown, prompting what the police perceived as an attack. As for his appearance on Hardcore Pawn? She says it was a set up and not real at all.
Can you think of any other dark behind-the-scenes secrets about Hardcore Pawn? Let us know in the comment section.
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