Clearwater Beach auction banks on link to Bernie Madoff items

CLEARWATER — Auctioneer Dion Abadi didn't know the painting's name, its artist, when he had bought it, or how.

Yet there it sat, on the floor of a Clearwater Beach hotel hall, an austere, wood-framed, "hand-signed lithograph" from the estate of disgraced and imprisoned billionaire Bernie Madoff.

Abadi called it a $6,000 steal. But others have called the "Bernie Madoff Auctions" a traveling scam, warned against by the Better Business Bureau and investigated by federal agents.

Abadi, who has led nationwide auction runs for more than a decade, said Tuesday's auction at the Marriott Suites on Sand Key was one of many hosted across Florida this year.

Buyers were invited to bid on Madoff's supposed painting, Ruth Madoff's golf clubs and rugs, paintings and jewelry sold by victims of bankruptcies, estate sales and Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

But the U.S. Marshals Service, which auctioned more than $900,000 of Madoff's possessions last month in New York, has reported it is looking into similar auctions that misrepresent goods with Madoff's name.

Abadi said he had proof the items were once owned by Madoff, though it was stored in his Atlanta office and unable to be viewed until February. A U.S. Marshals' spokesman in Tampa said he knew of no local investigation into the auction.

The state business license for Abadi's DA Auctioneers, which alongside the Georgia-based Southern Star Auctioneers ran Tuesday's auction, expired last month. Abadi's personal auctioneer license is up to date, according to state records.

Self-proclaimed bidders of Abadi's auctions have called them "scams" on Internet message boards. The Better Business Bureau has given DA its lowest grade, alleging the company failed to respond to a sales practice complaint.

Abadi said much of the negativity stemmed from amateur bidders hit with "buyer's remorse," and that many of his bidders were repeat customers.

The questions didn't dissuade those who attended. Lisa and Bobby Faison said the licensing, which was "more for the legal part," didn't change how they felt about the auction. The Tarpon Springs couple spent $12,000 on a silk rug, a bronze fountain, a Rolex Submariner and a sapphire necklace.

"We'll be going home now," she said, "and eating at home for a while."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Clearwater Beach auction banks on link to Bernie Madoff items 12/29/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 7:59pm]

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