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Latest items on eBay: seized loot
©New York Times
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 5, 2000
What was once the loot of local criminals is now a hot seller on eBay.
Oregon is auctioning seized and recovered property online as an alternative to selling the goods at a local auction or store. The effort has been so successful that at least two other states are thinking of following suit.
Oregon began selling items from law enforcement agencies online last year. Among recent items offered by the state (under the eBay user ID of oregontrail2000) are cell phones, printers, clothing, collectible coins, a wheelchair and mountain bikes. Most of the goods were forfeited or seized in raids by local law enforcement agencies or the state Department of Revenue.
California and Minnesota have gotten in touch with officials in Oregon to learn how their states can run similar programs, and California has posted unclaimed property for sale on eBay as a test.
Oregon sells "just about anything the local police department seizes in a crime," said Nole Bullock, program representative for the state's Department of Administrative Services, which keeps track of the state's surplus property. The state also sells surplus items such as traffic lights, street signs and old furniture from libraries and offices.
Bullock said the state had sold a mountain bike for $1,000 and had received a top bid of $1,425 for a 12-carat opal, although the reserve price was not met and the stone remained unsold. Those items, like much of what is sold, were probably stolen from a private owner before being confiscated by the police.
"We had two wheelchairs from the police department, and they must have been stolen from somebody," Bullock said. A "bucket of miscellaneous tools" that recently sold for $132.50 probably was stolen from a construction site, he said.
Although police auctions and property seizure auctions are not new, the selling of this merchandise online is proving to be more profitable than sales through the usual local auctions or sealed bids at a property warehouse. "We're more like a consignment shop," Bullock said. "We're getting an American value instead of an Oregon value."
For example, Bullock said, surplus hubcaps for Crown Victoria police cars used to be sold shrink-wrapped by the hundreds for a few hundred dollars. On eBay, he said, a set of four sells for $150 or more.
The buyers come from across the United States and the world, including Korea and Italy. For Oregon residents who do not have a computer or Internet access, the state has five computer terminals in the main property distribution center so people can bid online.
The state has discovered that the smaller items sell best online. The shipping costs for items such as oak desks are often more than the selling prices, Bullock said, and buyers often back out once they realize that they have to pay the shipping costs. Seized and out-of-service vehicles also are being sold, but they must be retrieved in person.
Bullock's department keeps a steady flow of items on the virtual auction block, 60 to 100 at a time, and Bullock said the gains from the sales for the individual state agencies could equal the cost of hiring one more police officer. Twenty percent of the sales goes into running the program, and the rest goes back to the contributing agencies.
"We took a certain amount of political heat from the local auctioneers," Bullock said. "But our duty is to the taxpayers and to get the best possible return for the property." The state continues to have six local auctions a year.
The Oregon property auction can be found on eBay or at tpps.das.state.or.us/surplus.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.