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Released from custody -- for a price

Fran Lesser of Medford runs Lion’s Furniture and

Fran Lesser of Medford runs Lion’s Furniture and Collectibles in East Patchogue. She purchases some of her wares, including this jewelry, at Suffolk County Police Property Section auctions. (Oct. 20, 2011) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

A lesson in life from the Suffolk County Police Property Section auction: "Everybody thinks they're going to score some payday here. There's no payday here."

This was auction number 1,103, held one recent morning in the department's cavernous Yaphank warehouse. The observation was courtesy of Michael Palladino, a manufacturer's representative from Merrick who found no $20 Van Gogh but did get a pretty good deal on a coffee maker.

All around him, stacked 30 feet tall under flickering yellow lights, was the evidence of criminal cases past and present, so much and so varied as to confound enumeration. Suffice it to say that this auction began with sneakers at 8:30 a.m. and covered a lot of ground before closing with pearls around 1 p.m. The police would run out of room if they did not auction off items unclaimed by their old owners two or three times a year.

Palladino is a regular at these sales, and on this morning he snapped up a trunkful of men's Nike sneakers, size 91/2, for a couple hundred bucks; a football bearing the putative signature of former Giants quarterback Kurt Warner for $115; a box of unidentified baseball cards for $250; and, for $390, a DeLonghi coffee maker bearing a $1,200 price tag.

The sneakers were practical, Palladino said, because he has three fast-growing boys who, if they don't wear size 91/2 shoes yet, will get there soon; the other purchases, not so much.

Buying entails some risk, because the police don't authenticate autographs and warn bidders that all merchandise is sold as-is. That means no refunds or returns, even on fancy Italian coffee makers.

But Palladino, who had researched prices on many of the items in the day's 180 lots, was confident he'd found good deals. "I'm a salesman by nature," he said. "It's getting the right product at the right price."

He did not bid up the Shopvac missing most of its wheels, the eight gun scopes or the wooden box containing a set of micrometers, which went to others among the 150 or so prospective buyers. Did anybody even know what a micrometer was? asked Officer Robert Viggers, the auctioneer, who did not. "For measuring," shouted somebody in back, and bidding commenced briskly.

Tales of an auctioneer

Viggers has no formal auctioneer's training but does have a public speaking background, said Lt. Elizabeth Yuengling, head of the property section. "His training was on the job," she said.

Before bidding began, Viggers warned attendees that taking pictures was not permitted, as the warehouse contained not just items being offered for auction but evidence being held for pending cases. No alcoholic beverages were allowed, he continued; and take better care of the portable bathroom, or else.

"At the last auction it was trashed, and if it happens again, there will be no more Porta-Potty for you guys to use," he said.

With the warnings out of the way, Viggers fired up his patter from atop a rough wooden stage erected in the center of the warehouse. Concerning some miscellaneous tools, spoken at machine-gun pace: "I have 60 looking for 65, 65 looking for 70, do I have 70?"

Offering up a tub of crowbars, wire cutters, bolt cutters and a sledgehammer: "What do I have for this set of burglar tools?" Presenting a golf bag complete with clubs that failed to arouse much interest: "Come on, people, JFK played with these clubs!" That line drew laughs but few bids.

The clubs went for $20 to Morris Stoler, 75, of Greenlawn, a former judge now in the insurance business who plans to give them away. He has attended the police auctions for about 20 years, he said, and was first in line to register for this one. "I was up at 4:30 this morning in anticipation."

Reasons to bid

Stoler said he gives away most of his auction finds: that handsome set of Corning dinnerware, service for eight, would go to a woman in his office; the pocketbook he bought a few auctions ago was for his wife; nine boxes of clothes he bought at a recent auction went to Helping Hands Mission in Huntington Station.

Stoler brought a camping chair to stake out his front-row seat. Near him were Deborah Dozier, 40, of Sayville, and Fran Lesser, 72, of Medford.

Dozier has attended the property auction here for only three years, but comes from an experienced family -- her sister and father drive vehicles bought at the police vehicle auction. "DUIs are best, because people usually take good care of their cars," she said.

Then there was Lesser, who proves that there can be, after all, a payday at the police auction. She runs a store called Lion's Furniture and Collectibles, in East Patchogue, stocking it in part with auction finds; she said she expected to make a 25 percent markup on the bikes and clothes she bought at auction this day.

"I don't like to brag," Lesser said, but once, some years ago, she said she bought a painting depicting Benjamin Franklin conducting diplomacy in Paris for $50. Cleaned up, it sold for $1,500, she said.

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