Behind the chain-link fence at the Drug Seizure Showroom stands a phalanx of 52-inch TVs, DVD players, Xboxes and even a set of fishing poles for the idle methmaker or moonshiner. And no self-respecting coke dealer would be without the showroom's main event: a tricked-out orange golf cart with gold-spoked custom rims, white vinyl seats and a CD player.
The Drug Seizure Showroom sells to the public items confiscated by the state Department of Revenue because their owners have failed to buy tax stamps on their illicit wares. For more than 15 years, North Carolina has required such entrepreneurs to pay taxes on their hootch, and those who don't risk losing their possessions for tax evasion, a civil penalty. The drug bust itself is a criminal matter. Nonetheless, fewer than 100 people have purchased tax stamps, and when the department sells one, it's usually to collectors. State statute makes it illegal for revenuers to rat out those buying tax stamps, but, well, one can never be too careful.
"How they got it is confidential," says Randy Lee, the good-humored state surplus property officer. "We just sell it."
The showroom is part of the gargantuan State Surplus Warehouse in Raleigh, an orphanage for the overstocked or obsolete: laptop computers, office desks and chairs, metal filing cabinets, even a Wurlitzer spinet piano. Lee calls the warehouse "the largest flea market in North Carolina," worth $23 million a year that is funneled back to the agency that sold the property or to the state's general fund.
Lee used to work in administration at the Department of Corrections, and strikes me as a natural-born huckster: "We sell everything," he says cheerily, as we stroll by a tissue culture rotator, "anything imaginable. We've had a brass chandelier from the governor's mansion."
Seized and government property can be bid for online, including a gold-colored necklace that reads "#1 Mom" and a gaudy bracelet with Jesus' face encrusted in clear stones; the state's jetsam is also sold on eBay, where Lee unloaded a railroad car and Landing Craft Utility, a work boat used by the state department of transportation, for 100 Gs apiece. Yet, cyberspace doesn't do justice to the warehouse, showroom and car lot, where I eyed a maroon '66 Plymouth Fury, also seized by the Revenue Department. "That's a nice Crown Vic," Lee assures me, as we pass several cars with dented bumpers and cracked windshields. "Every vehicle was driven here."
Inside, I'm tempted by the $5 gas chromatograph—a bargain at twice the price if your house is decorated in early Frankenstein—but the Drug Seizure Showroom is irresistible, and packed with other forbidden oddities. In a glass case lie "prohibited items"—dozens of knives security officers have seized from airplane passengers. "They bring knives in by the bucketload," Lee says, adding the knife sale is held the last Monday of the month. "We've had hockey sticks. And corkscrews are abundant."
In an adjacent case, the state treasury sells unclaimed property from safety deposit boxes, even hospitals.
"Sometimes we get rings with skin on them," one worker told me. "But we clean them up and sell them."
Behind the fence, I spot a full-length wooden mirror. It has a broken leg. Someone has written in the dust on the glass: "stuped mirror."
For hours, bidding and item information, see www.surpluspropertydivision.com or call 854-2160. The State Surplus Warehouse is at 6501 Chapel Hill Road, 1.3 miles west of the State Fairgrounds.