An auction is usually a low-key affair.
Bidders hold up numbered cards, or just signal the auctioneer — in a number of discreet ways — that they’re interested in an item.
On Sunday, Southern Star Auctioneer Dion Abadi just came out and told some 125 potential bidders that he was only going to auction off items on which bidders placed stickers prior to the session.
It was a slightly less sedate way of moving goods, but Abadi accomplished his mission.
An advertisement for the auction, which was held Sunday afternoon at the Hilton Naples hotel on U.S. 41 North, stated that the event was being held due to losses caused by the Bernard Madoff ponzi scheme.
Sondra Stewart, a visitor from the United Kingdom, purchased an Isaac Maimon acrylic painting for $3,500. Abadi said it was an original and worth $13,000.
Later, Stewart was just concerned about getting it on the plane home. Not so much where it came from.
“It’s pretty,” she said.
Abadi pitched what he said was an original hand-signed Peter Max — not a lithograph — saying it was worth at least $10,000.
After a bidder snagged it for a scant $2,750, Abadi said, “Unbelievable. Are you all one family?” he asked in mock exasperation.
An original Picasso lithograph circa 1954 went for $850.
An emerald necklace bearing 23.25 carats in emeralds, and 8.72 carats in diamonds would retail for $31,000, Abadi said. The top price he could pull out from the bidders was $6,500.
A lithograph Abadi identified as an original Norman Rockwell, called “The Window Washer,” was worth about $9,500, he said. He got $2,000.
The advertisement, which ran in the Naples Daily News, has “Bernie Madoff Auction” in big, bold letters.
In late June, the 71-year-old financier was sentenced to 150 years in prison for perpetrating what many say was one of Wall Street’s most brazen investment scams. Billions of dollars were lost as a result of securities fraud and money laundering.
“Seized assets and liquidations will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, regardless of cost or value to recover losses from Ponzi scheme,” the ad stated.
John Schmidt, who works for Southern Star Auctioneers of Chamblee, Ga., said the Abadi brothers — Dion and Gavin — have been in the auction business for about 15 years. When investors were scammed out of huge sums of money by Madoff, some came to Southern Star auctions and asked for help, Schmidt said.
“We ourselves do not know (if an item) comes from a Madoff victim or not,” Schmidt said, adding that the company wouldn’t identify merchandise as such even if they did know its origins.
“The person who sold to us doesn’t want us to say. We are just a public service,” Schmidt said.
The advertisement also mentions the company’s Web site, www.madoffhelpline.com. The site is a single page. It asks, “Have you been a victim of Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme?”
“If you have been a victim of the Madoff ponzi scheme and would like to liquidate your fine art or jewelry at one of our future auctions, contact us with a brief description of your inventory,” the site states. It provides the following e-mail address:
Sunday afternoon, Philip Waldor, a visitor from Atlantic City, was standing outside the event room, watching. He hadn’t bid on anything. He didn’t expect to.
Asked if he thought any of the merchandise came from victims of Madoff’s investment fraud, Waldor smiled.
“No,” he said quietly and shook his head.