State police auction reveals criminals’ wares

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(Host) Bargain hunters flocked to Williston on Tuesday for an unusual sale. The Vermont state police hired an auctioneer to sell off a large inventory of seized, abandoned, or unclaimed stolen property.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, the auction items offer a glimpse into what criminals prefer to steal – and what they like to use in their work.

(Dillon) Before the sale begin, auction employee Wes Paro unloads some of the merchandise. On one side of the auction room are dozens of gigantic grow lights used in clandestine, indoor marijuana farms. A shelf nearby holds 30 balance beam scales that were perhaps once used to weigh contraband.

(Paro) “There’s also hydroponic systems. There’s a little hydroponic system there that they didn’t even get out of the box. And there’s a bunch of others, if you look around these plastic tubs those were all used for growing like flower pots, if you want to call it – pot pots.”

(Dillon) Paro works for the Thomas Hirchak company. The auctioneers were hired by the state police to clear out a warehouse full of stuff that accumulated over the years. Some of it was seized as evidence. Some of it was stolen and never claimed, and some was simply abandoned.

(Paro) “Everything you see in here was all from the state police. Well, there’s some retail theft stuff, some jeans, some computer printers. Those were new in the box, and they were in storage for quite some time. So they’re not like brand new off the shelf type of thing.”

(Sound of auctioneer calling bids.)

(Dillon) One hundred-forty-nine buyers have registered by the time auctioneer Hirchak takes the microphone. His banter is fast-paced and funny. The signals to bid from the buyers are subtle: a tip of the head or a hand raised every so slightly.

(Sound of auctioneer) “Twenty-five is the craftsman air ratchet, who will give $25 to start this one?! … $50 bid, $50 bid and go! … Thirty-seven, cross bow and holsters! And a mag lite, Motorola walkie talkie, $50 to go!”

(Dillon) Over on the side of the room, State Police Sergeant Joseph Leahy watches the bidding. Leahy says it’s been about five years since the police cleared out their warehouse.

(Leahy) “Well, it’s recovered or seized property from a number of different investigations. We try to find the owners. If it’s a reported theft we know who the owner is and it goes back to them as soon as possible. But a lot of times, we get stuff that’s literally found on the side of the road or it’s seized and it cannot be returned due to the law.”

(Dillon) Leahy is here in case someone comes forward to claim some of the stolen property. He says he’s not keeping track of who may want to buy industrial size grow lights.

(Leahy) “We have some triple beam balances, we have some hydroponic grow equipment. Also, that stuff can be used in legitimate businesses. If one has a greenhouse, they can use the hydroponics for that. We’re not big brother. We don’t do background checks on anybody. I don’t – we don’t check any of the buyers’ numbers or anything like that. Whoever wants to buy it, they can leave with it.”

(Dillon) With over 400 items for sale – from silver spoons to wide screen TVs – the auction stretches through the noon hour. Rick Niquette and his friends checked the e-Bay online auction service before making their bids. They’re looking to resell stuff on line.

(Niquette) “Anything you can make money on the Internet with. I picked up some of the scales. I checked before I came – they’re going for $30, I paid $15. So should double it.”

(Dillon) For its part, the state police say they’re not in the auction business to make money. The proceeds from the sale will go into the state’s general fund.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Williston.

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