Some loot returned; rest piles up or is sold

Despite the lack of resources in Stanislaus County, burglars do get caught, at least sometimes. Modesto police solved about one in 10 burglary cases in 2006, according to the Department of Justice.

In October, Modesto police arrested two men and linked them to 30 burglary victims. Police found thousands of dollars in stolen goods in the men's possession.

In March, the men pleaded guilty in Stanislaus County Superior Court to auto burglary and possession of stolen property. They were sentenced to five years in prison.

But what about all that stuff police recovered? Laptops, cameras, cell phones, credit cards, driver's licenses, a box of harmonicas. The detective in charge of the case, Gary Martinez, photographed each item and slipped the snapshots into a binder to track claimed and unclaimed items.

Some were easy to return. Credit cards or licenses led right back to victims. Some items with serial numbers or other identifiable marks made it home. But many handbags, cell phones, compact discs and tools had no easy identifiers. Eventually, unclaimed property makes its way to Modesto's evidence room, run by Sgt. Clint Raymer.

The goods are handled in various ways. Cash, for example, is deposited in the city's Finance Department unless it has some value as physical evidence. If police can't locate the owners of equipment such as computers or video cameras, the items can be used by the city for official business. That doesn't happen often, Raymer said.

Other unclaimed goods eventually end up in the city's annual auction.

"We give it about 60 days after the case closes with the disposition of guilty or not guilty," Raymer said.

The auction proceeds go into Modesto's general fund.

"For storage reasons alone, I need to get that stuff out of here," he said.

Not everything is appropriate for the auction. Lights that often are confiscated from indoor marijuana operations are destroyed, as are contraband guns.

"We don't auction guns ever," he said. "I've seen a lot of nice guns go down the incinerator."

Mysterious items sometimes come into the evidence room. Last year, for example, Raymer opened the property room freezer to find a 20-pound block of ice that had been booked into evidence.

"Maybe it fell off an airliner and through somebody's roof," he said.

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.

Related stories from Modesto Bee