By Kathryn G. Menu
During an arrest over a decade ago, Sag Harbor Village Police seized two boxes from the vehicle of someone charged in a series of liquor store thefts. One was full of brand new Gap jeans, the other Van Heusen shirts.
Today, those boxes, like a lot of items seized during arrests or brought to the department’s lost and found, sit unclaimed in the Sag Harbor Village Police Department.
But not for long.
The Sag Harbor Village Police Department has joined the ranks of close to 2,500 police departments, including the East Hampton Town Police Department, the Southampton Town Police Department and the Riverhead Police Department, in funneling these items to the online auction warehouse, www.propertyroom.com.
Propertyroom.com was founded in 1999 by former Long Beach, N.Y. police detective Thomas Lane, an entrepreneur who remembered how expensive — and time consuming — it was for the Long Beach Police Department to hold its own auctions.
Most often found for auction on the website is jewelry, clothing, watches, art, coins and bullion, but occasionally, says Propertyroom.com CEO P.J. Bellomo, some more bizarre items do occasionally come their way.
Like a colonoscopy machine, or a coffin, for example.
“The first question we asked ourselves was who steals a colonoscopy machine, and the next was, who buys a colonoscopy machine,” said Bellomo.
But someone did.
According to Sag Harbor Village Police Sergeant Paul Fabiano, he decided to contract with Propertyroom.com for the very reasons Lane founded the company.
“We didn’t really have enough property to do an auction and I really wanted to clear this stuff out of here,” said Sergeant Fabiano. “We have been holding some of this property since the 1980s. And I wanted to make sure it was done properly, ethically.”
Most of the items are not seized evidence, but items brought to lost and found and never claimed, he said. The department does send letters out to people who bring in lost and found items if they are not claimed to see if they would like to claim the property. Often, said Sergeant Fabiano, they do not hear back from those people.
Real property law dictates the police department must hold on to items with a value of less than $100 for a minimum of three months. Items that are estimated between $100 and $500 in value have to be held for six months and items valued between $500 and $5,000 must be held for one year. Anything valued at over $5,000 must be held by the department for over three years.
Every effort is made to return any evidence related items to the rightful owners once a case is completed and will not be up for an appeal, but, said Sergeant Fabiano, occasionally things simply go unclaimed.
Sergeant Fabiano initially reached out to the Suffolk County Police Department and it was through a source there that he discovered Propertyroom.com.
According to Bellomo, the website sells everything at open auction, starting at $1.Propertyroom.com takes a small cut of the sale, with the remaining money going back to the police department the item originated from.
According to Bellomo, Propertyroom.com has distributed about $50 million back to police departments in 48 states across the country.
“And that is not taking into account the money saved by these departments not having to hold auctions,” he said. “A lot of police chiefs see the value more in not having to deploy their precious resources on a non-police related activity.”
“We are not looking to make money off this,” said Sergeant Fabiano. “But just to remove the need for us to spend the time and the man hours on organizing an auction,” he said. “Especially with what we have here, which is honestly some old wrist watches, some CDs, a skateboard, a scooter, a little jewelry, mostly costume pieces.”
For the most part, items sent to Propertyroom.com are largely along the same lines – costume jewelry, cellphones, watches, coins, tools and bicycles. However, sometimes a diamond in the rough does emerge.
This year Bellomo said one of his clients in the greater New York City area sentPropertyroom.com a bag a jewelry. The company engages the services of experts, including jewelers, to evaluate items it will sell on its website. In that bag of costume jewelry, the website’s expert found a watch valued at $125,000. It sold at auction for $77,000.
The website was also sent a Persian rug valued at more than $10,000, and a 2.75 carat, pear shaped diamond ring, which also came out of a bag of costume jewelry. That sold for $23,000 at auction.
And then there was the colonoscopy machine.
“With items like tools, cameras, iPods, we always make sure to test them to make sure they work before we put them out to auction,” said Bellomo. “That one went untested.”