Suffolk County has settled with six business owners who sued the police department for seizing gold and silver items from their stores without a warrant and, in most cases, failing to return them .
The settlement is for $700,000 and also requires Suffolk Police to use a new system to track items taken for investigation.
“Detectives were able to go and seize whatever they wanted whenever they wanted,” said attorney Andrew Campanelli, who is representing the plaintiffs. “There was no limit to what they could grab.”
Campanelli filed the federal lawsuit in 2019, but the Merrick-based attorney said it took three orders from a federal judge to force the county to turn over its records.
“What we learned was that in most cases there were no ongoing criminal cases and they were never established as stolen property,” Campanelli explained. “And at the end of the day, Suffolk County Police took the property and either sold it at public auction and kept the money or sent it to the incinerator.”
Catharine Schultz owned a silver-for-gold business that had three locations on Long Island. She says that over a 10-year period, detectives seized more than $180,000 worth of goods without a warrant and without an explanation of what happened to the items.
“It was like the wild Wild West,” Schultz said. “They were doing what they wanted to do and they weren’t accountable to anyone.”
Suffolk County spokeswoman Nicole Russo told NBC New York in a statement that all members of the department have received enhanced training. The department has also changed policies regarding property coming into their possession.
“When ownership of property that has been salvaged from a second-hand dealer is disputed, a hearing is held to determine ownership, to ensure that the rights of both parties are preserved,” Russo said. .
“I finally feel a sense of relief that this is over after many, many years and finally knowing that the Suffolk County Police Department has been held accountable,” Schultz said.
Tired of struggling, Schultz closed her stores in 2018. This settlement, she hopes, will prevent other businesses from being exploited. His lawyer thinks there are many more victims.
“That seems like the tip of the iceberg, no doubt it’s happened to other business owners in Suffolk County,” Schultz said, adding “I hope other resellers of opportunity that always operate are not afraid to come forward and be afraid of retaliation.”