By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
MANHATTAN CRIMINAL COURT — The case against a Lower East Side antiques dealer accused of hawking stolen subway signs out of his Houston Street shop was dismissed Wednesday, allowing the longtime purveyor to resume selling the authentic underground goods.
Billy Leroy, who's operated Billy's Antiques and Props at the corner of Elizabeth Street for more than a decade, was arrested by transit police in March for allegedly peddling stolen subway signage that had sat in plain view in front of his shop for years.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority charged that 19 of the 96 signs rounded up by police at his shop during the spring police sweep had been reported missing last year, according to a criminal complaint from the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
But on Wednesday the charges were dismissed, and the court ordered that Leroy have his confiscated wares returned.
"It's like a f—ing victory for the little guy," said Leroy, who maintained he originally bought the signs from a subcontractor hired by the MTA to remove old signage from various subway stations across the city.
"They wanted to crush me."
Civil rights attorney Ron Kuby defended Leroy in court, noting afterward that "it takes a very special kind of stupid" for the MTA to have pursued a case against his client with no evidence of the thefts.
"If the MTA ever gets around to fixing its cameras, we can get around to solving subway sign thefts — and also murders and terrorism," said Kuby, who made headlines in May for challenging the detention of attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shazhad.
Leroy said that he would get his dozens of signs back sometime in the next two weeks, but after he sells those, he's out of the subway sign business for good.
"I'll sell those, and I'll never have the signs again," he said, noting the subcontractor he worked with is now retired.
But his dealings with MTA may not quite be over.
"I'd love to sue them," Leroy said, "or have them put me in charge of their used-sign department."