By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
LOWER EAST SIDE — A year after police busted a longtime antiques dealer for selling allegedly stolen subway signs out of his Houston Street shop, the cigar-chomping purveyor triumphantly returned Wednesday with dozens of the authentic signs reclaimed following a drawn-out court battle.
Billy Leroy, owner and operator of Billy's Antiques & Props at the corner of Elizabeth Street, proudly lined the sidewalk outside his makeshift, tented flea market with the underground wares after picking them up from the NYPD property clerk Wednesday afternoon.
"It's a beautiful thing," said Leroy, as friends unloaded the 74 signs he was able to get returned. "The visual of all these signs being back is awesome. We've had these signs for 20 years on the Bowery."
Criminal charges against Leroy were dropped last September after police arrested him for allegedly peddling the stolen signage, which had sat in plain view in front of his shop for years.
At the time, Leroy argued that he bought the signs legally from a subcontractor with the MTA whose job it was to dispose of the signs after installing new ones at various subway stations.
When authorities refused to return the signs after the case was dismissed, saying they were working to find their rightful owner, Leroy's lawyer Ron Kuby threatened to file a federal lawsuit claiming a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to due process.
An associate of Kuby's, Lea Spiess, explained that police also violated protocol by handing the confiscated signs over the MTA rather than the property clerk, as required.
"Here I had a good idea to turn garbage into salable stuff," Leroy said, noting he agreed to the let the MTA keep 35 of his most-valuable signs.
He added that the total wholesale price of the signs he got back Wednesday is about $3,000 — or double that in resale value — as curious customers immediately began checking out the returned items.
"I'm back in business," Leroy said.