Customers of Evans Oil in Naples found yellow caution tape wrapped around its pumps off Horseshoe Drive on Thursday, with no way to fill up their gas tanks.
The closing of the self-service island near the Naples Municipal Airport came without warning and with no explanation to its fleet customers after a multimillion-dollar deal to sell the oil company's assets fell through earlier this week.
The front gates and offices were open to customers Thursday afternoon, but phone calls have been routed to an answering service for days.
The company's assets returned to the auction block this week after Florida Petroleum — the winning bidder at an auction held last month — failed to close on its asset purchase agreement.
Evans Oil filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year under a mound of debt. The long-time Naples company has about 70 employees and the owner has fought to keep the doors open since then.
The sale to Florida Petroleum was expected to close by Sept. 13. In court documents, the company blames Evans Oil for spoiling the deal, while Evans Oil points the finger at the buyer.
Florida Petroleum planned to continue operating the business and keep the local jobs.
In another attempt to sell the assets, a bankruptcy judge approved a sealed bid, as-is auction this week. The assets — including box trucks, tractors and tanker trailers — were offered in two lots. But no acceptable bids came in that met the minimum prices that were set, according to court documents.
Soneet Kapila, a court-appointed facilitator who handled both auctions, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Evans Oil pushed for a second auction, saying Florida Petroleum failed to meet its conditions in its asset purchase agreement and refused to close.
In an emergency motion filed with the court, Evans Oil said it would "suffer immediate and irreparable harm" if Florida Petroleum didn't hand over a $500,000 deposit it put in an escrow account for the purchase of the assets, and that a prompt sale was needed to maintain the local business as a "going concern."
At the first auction last month, Florida Petroleum — a new company with Naples ties — made the highest bid of $15.75 million. The company's owners include Casey Askar, a Naples resident with a growing food empire. He couldn't immediately be reached for comment, neither could his attorney or his out-of-town partner.
In court filings, Florida Petroleum said Evans Oil failed to share critical financial and business information needed to close on such a complex deal and to meet other obligations in the asset purchase agreement.
Florida Petroleum has argued there was no firm closing date under the purchase agreement and that any "irreparable harm" to Evans Oil was likely self-inflicted.
Evans Oil contends it was misled because it didn't know Florida Petroleum might use financing from a third party to buy the assets. Florida Petroleum has described the claim as a "red herring," saying the argument was used to convince the court to ignore the terms of the purchase agreement.
Florida Petroleum fought to continue its negotiations to buy the assets. It's unclear whether those negotiations will continue.
It's also unclear whether Great Lakes Petroleum, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., and which had the next highest offer at the first auction, is still in the picture.
Since 1959, Evans Oil has distributed bulk oil, gas, diesel and other petroleum products in Florida. Its fuel supplies have come from ports in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville.
The oil company's customers include gas stations, convenience stores, marinas, golf courses and car dealerships.
Under new ownership in 2001, the company took a new direction focused on growth beyond Southwest Florida — a plan that later seemed to falter. At the time of its bankruptcy filing, the company owed more than $35 million to Fifth Third Bank.
Evans Oil is a major distributor for Chevron.
Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden