Make us your home page
Instagram

Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies empty evidence rooms with online auctions

If you're enticed to buy stolen merchandise but don't want to do the time, here's a tip:

Most police agencies now empty their evidence and property rooms on online auctions that dole out deals in swiped fine jewelry, power tools, laptops and, yes, even a coffin.

"You name it, we've sold it," said P.J. Bellomo, chief executive of propertyroom.com, which sells for 1,600 police agencies, including 96 in Florida and many big cop shops in the Tampa Bay area.

Among the top sellers: 30,000 lost or stolen bicycles. But the off-the-wall runs the spectrum: an ax-shaped guitar signed by Gene Simmons of the rock group Kiss, a cherry picker crane arm and a medical device used to perform colonoscopies.

For decades, police held their own auctions when they cleaned the attic of confiscated contraband or unclaimed goods held as evidence. They typically drew the same handful of folks eager to score hidden treasure at pennies on the dollar. Crowds were so thin some agencies lost money selling goods that cost them nothing.

"It was a big hassle to stockpile the stuff, then hope for a crowd," said Russ Hanson, seizures investigator for the St. Petersburg Police Department, which sells confiscated goods through Bay Area Auction Services (baas live.com). "One of our last drew 40 bidders, so they got a lot of deals."

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office took its goods auction to propertyroom.com in 2007.

"We're getting 50 percent more revenue," said Cecelia Barreda, department spokeswoman.

Tom Lane, a Long Island detective, dreamed up propertyroom.com in 1999, but didn't sell the first item — a Pentax SLR camera for $20 — until 2001.

Organizing meant getting police to part with goods without up-front payments, perfecting the technology and setting up warehousing, delivery and photographing 1,000 items a day.

Today, 25,000 shoppers check deals daily and visits are growing at 30 percent a year. The site is closing in on 1 million registered users. Sales rose 27 percent to $35 million in 2008 when the venture capital fund owners claimed their first profit.

The rules require you to register. Bids start at $1 and are binding. Auctions are seldom called off if bids are too skimpy.

Weapons and confiscated drugs are forbidden.

If you can prove something is yours, the Web site will return it. Reclaimed so far: a tombstone and a University of Nevada at Las Vegas NCAA championship ring.

Discounts may be deep, but prices can get stratospheric. A diamond-encrusted Rolex sold for $11,000 and an industrial generator went for $45,000. Among the regulars are theatrical prop houses, such as the makers of Reno 9-1-1, who bought a police car light bar.

Demand for deals exceeds the supply. So Bellomo signed up merchandise liquidators to supply about a third of the goods — mostly collectable coins, jewelry and designer apparel to keep the offering interesting.

The Web site offers few clues to the stories behind the goods because police don't tell them. But the company does certify authenticity of valuables through third-party appraisers.

There are mixups. One commercial nursery owner — Bellomo won't name the state — bought a truckload of grow lights taken from a marijuana grower. Pulled over for a bad taillight, the nursery owner was threatened with arrest when a drug-sniffing dog smelled cannabis residue in his rental truck.

"He told the officer, 'Hey, I bought this stuff from you guys!' " recalled Bellomo, whose company confirmed the sale before the buyer could drive off.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies empty evidence rooms with online auctions 06/22/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 22, 2009 9:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus

    Retail

    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.
[SCOTT KEELER  |  TIMES]

  3. Boho Hunter will target fashions in Hyde Park

    Business

    Boho Hunter, a boutique based in Miami's Wynwood District, will expand into Tampa with its very first franchise.

    Palma Canaria bags will be among the featured items at Boho Hunter when it opens in October. Photo courtesy of Boho Hunter.
  4. Gallery now bringing useful art to Hyde Park customers

    Business

    HYDE PARK — In 1998, Mike and Sue Shapiro opened a gallery in St. Petersburg along Central Ave., with a majority of the space dedicated to Sue's clay studio.

     As Sue Shapiro continued to work on her pottery in St. Petersburg, her retail space grew and her studio shrunk. Now Shapiro's is bringing wares like these to Hyde Park Village. Photo courtesy of Shapiro's.
  5. Appointments at Raymond James Bank and Saint Leo University highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers

    Business

    Banking

    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. Jackson will oversee all of Raymond James Bank's operational business elements, risk management and strategic planning functions. Kackson joins Raymond James Bank after senior …

    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. [Company handout]