State News

'Drug bust' jewels going once, going twice ...

Pendants of gorillas and snake heads, diamond rings and watches worth up to $38,000 went on the auction block in Raleigh Thursday. The items had been seized during drug busts.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Thousands of dollars worth of jewelry seized during drug busts went on the auction block Thursday at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.

Sixty-seven people made successful bids and, together, spent $108,000 to buy items, ranging in value from $1,000 to $38,000. Many of the seized pieces found new homes with husbands shopping for their wives or jewelers looking for merchandise.

"You'd be surprised who buys this stuff," said state Department of Revenue spokeswoman Kim Brooks, adding that 200 people had registered to bid.

Among the necklaces, rings and bracelets, several unique items stood out, including a $29,500 Jacob & Co. five-time-zone watch with a face on which sparkling yellow, pink and blue stones form the continents on a world map. 

A diamond gorilla pendant missing a stone went for $3,700 – nearly $18,000 below its appraised value of $21,600.

But one stolen lady's diamond ring, worth more than $19,000, did not make it to the auction block.

A woman called authorities after seeing it on WRAL News in the morning and said the ring had been stolen from her a few years ago. Officials kept the ring from being sold while they investigated her claims.

Wilmington jewelry store owner Omi Nanwani snapped up the most expensive item – a silver, men's Breitling 1884 chronometer watch listed at $38,000 – for $8,000. After a little refurbishment, he expects to sell it for $12,000.

Nanwani said he spent $50,000 on jewelry and will "re-sell some, melt some down, and just turn it one way or another."

Three-quarters of the profits made Thursday will go to the law enforcement agencies responsible for the arrests in which the goods were seized. The rest will go to the state's general fund, which faces a possible $1.6 billion shortfall.

"The general statutes of North Carolina allow the department to take out tax assessments against individuals that possess taxable quantities of illegal drugs," Cale Johnson, with the Department of Revenue, said. "Those assessments are collected through events such as today when you seize the property belonging to the drug dealers."

New owners will not get the stories behind the jewelry, but some collectors buy pieces when they knew their histories.

The public auction was the first of its kind held by North Carolina in nine years.

Law enforcement agencies regularly pick up cars, boats and other items, too, but those items are sold through a sealed-bid process. This year, however, enough jewelry was confiscated to put together a public auction, Brooks said.

"We felt we had enough items that would be of interest to folks, (and) that might generate a little more money," she said.

The names of people who purchase items during the auction are public record.