Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 14, 2012

Tazewell Sheriff’s Office considers auction of unclaimed property

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

TAZEWELL, Va. — Auctioning off old evidence may help Tazewell County recoup revenue lost by the tightening of state and federal budgets.

Major Harold Heatley, chief deputy of the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office, said the department is looking in to auctioning off items obtained during criminal investigations but no longer needed for prosecution.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia has a code that allows for unclaimed property to be disposed of by the sheriff’s department,” Heatley said. “Basically, it talks about being able to dispose of unclaimed property. If it has been in our possession for a period of 60 days or longer, we can sell it at a public auction, retain it or use it. However, we must make reasonable attempts to notify the proper owner as well as publish it in the newspaper for two successive weeks before it can be auctioned.”

Heatley said a wide variety of items end up in storage at the sheriff’s office,

“We have a number of items that have been taken during the course of investigations that are no longer needed,” Heatley said. “These are all items seized during the course of a criminal investigation that are no longer needed for that purpose. We are talking about jewelry, cars, firearms, electronic equipment and other items that have been seized. We are looking to auction everything that is not illegal to possess. In the case of weapons items cannot be claimed by the owner because it is illegal for a felon to be in possession of a firearm.”

Heatley said space is now at a premium due to the years of evidence piling up.

“Vehicles, four wheelers and guns all start adding up over the years,” he said. “We are trying to make room because we have had some rather large gun seizures over the years. You can’t just keep adding and adding. We only have so much space to store these items.”

Before items can be auctioned, however, Heatley said the department will have to contact previous owners to make sure they no longer want the unclaimed items due to state code.

“We are contacting these people via letter at their last known address and putting it in the newspaper prior to the auction to let them know their property is abandoned,” Heatley said. “If they want to claim it, they have come to the sheriff’s office, identify it and show proof that it belongs to them before the auction. There are some provisions in this ordinance, that a person can get some compensation for the item if they claim it after it is auctioned up to three years after the auction. There is a reasonable period of time in which a person can come in, show proof the item belongs to them. We are only liable to pay back for the amount it was auctioned for, not for the value of the item.”

Heatley said there are other state laws the sheriff’s office will have to comply with in order to auction any items.

“We ourselves will not be auctioning the items,” Heatley said. “We can recoup money by giving it to an auctioneer to auction it for us. Before any money can come to us, we are responsible for paying the auctioneer fee, towing fees, any lien on the property and any other fees.”

Heatley said certain guidelines must also be followed so any money from these auctions can be recouped back into Tazewell County.

“We have to locally auction off these items in order to retain any money gained from these auctions,” he said. “If we don’t have a county ordinance for that, any money gained from these auctions goes to the state’s general fund. This is a way to subsidize our local budgets instead of sending that money out of this area during the budget constraints the county is facing.”

Heatley said members of the sheriff’s office and Tazewell County Attorney Eric Young are presently working together to draft an ordinance to allow the auctions.

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com㕻