When an arrest is made in the Hamptons, when a crime is being investigated and police seize evidence, it can, as you might imagine, be extremely valuable. By law, once the property is no longer needed in the investigation and the case is closed, police departments are required to hold these items until they are claimed by the owners, within certain time limits. Jewelry, artwork, whatever—it all sits in a holding area known as the “property room.” Once the time limit is up, however, the property is sold at auction.
In some cases it can be fairly easy to sell property related to a Hamptons crime. East Hampton Town held an auction in February of 2011 at which a Porsche Boxster and a Toyota FJ were on the block. Naturally, there were plenty of buyers turning out to get a nice car at a steep discount, and they were snapped up fairly quickly.
Probably the best opportunity to find something big at a police auction in the Hamptons (or anywhere around the world) arises when vehicles—which are frequently seized for a variety of traffic infractions—are offered to the highest bidder. By far the most expensive item ever sold at a police auction was in Dubai, where an abandoned Ferrari Enzo worth approximately $1.6 million was seized by local police after it was found sitting under a film of silt in a parking lot for nearly two years, collecting tickets from Dubai authorities. Reportedly it was left behind by a Brit who’d fled Dubai to avoid paying traffic fines.
But not everything can be a Ferrari or a Porsche.
More often than not, the items available at an East End police auction would hardly inspire people to come flocking. Following the Bernie Madoff scandal, U.S. Marshals put his home in Montauk up for sale, and the contents of the house—bed linens to duck decoys, exercise equipment to furniture—were auctioned off, drawing national media and more than $1,000,000 in sales. But that was a big-ticket federal auction. Who’s going to physically walk down to the police station to buy an old computer or a pair of “gently worn” jeans? In today’s world, you can find items like that on eBay or some other website. People will, however, pay regular visits to propertyroom.com, and nearly every department in the Hamptons has not only taken note but taken advantage of the opportunity.
Founded in 1999 by former police officers, propertyroom.com provides online auction services to law enforcement agencies across the country, giving more than 2,700 police departments a clearinghouse for the “property room” goods inside their own police stations. The benefits for the police include not having to use department resources to run auctions, and reaching a larger audience of potential bidders and buyers while creating a revenue stream (when an item is sold, the website gets a percentage of the sale, and the rest goes to the police). The Sag Harbor Village Police Department, Southampton Town Police Department and Riverhead Police Department now all use Propertyroom.com to put items up for auction.
Even if they come across a pair Jimmy Choo shoes or a Tiffany bracelet, some people might be concerned with the stigma of purchasing a product with an ill-gotten past. But not everything is crime-related. In fact, according to the Sag Harbor Police Department, most of the property they have headed to auction has been turned in as “lost and found,” such as the several pairs of Gap jeans that had been sitting with the police for nearly 10 years.
Last November, propertyroom.com announced that it had given back $46 million to municipalities across America through sales. “Property Room is proud of our commitment to local police departments and municipalities—not only because of the services we provide, but the fact we are able to give back to these local communities,” said CEO P. J. Bellomo. “We’ve reached an outstanding record giving $46 million back, and we expect to hit $50 million by the end of the year.”
If a Porsche or a Ferrari show up, they might not have to wait that long.