Skip to comments.To the Bidders Go Bernie Madoff’s Spoils
Posted on 06/07/2011 3:18:06 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Why would anybody pay $675 for convicted swindler Bernie Madoffs honorary diploma from Yeshiva University? The real question, exclaimed Rich Kroll, slapping his head after he got outbid for the diploma, is why anybody wouldnt pay it.
Its history! Its the big thing! Its the biggest thing of the century! said the anguished Kroll, a North Miami online retailer. I should have bought it I should have kept bidding. I dropped out at $600, because I only have $500 in my pocket, but I should have found a way! I wanted it!
Kroll was just one of hundreds of people who lined up Saturday to buy goods confiscated from Madoffs Palm Beach mansion, forking over their money almost as gleefully as the investors who put $65 billion into his Ponzi scheme before it collapsed in 2008.
The auction by the U.S. Marshals Service, conducted at the Miami Beach Convention Center, attracted about 150 buyers, with 6,000 more participating online. They paid more than $400,000 for everything from Madoffs prescription eyeglasses to his underwear.
It went about as expected, said auctioneer Bob Sheehan. When we sold the stuff from his house in New York, it brought in millions, but that included boats and cars and jewelry. This one was mostly household goods.
The bidders were an eclectic mixture of awestruck high-finance groupies, intense art dealers and gimlet-eyed professional auction buyers, whose differing interests kept the bidding unpredictable and highly entertaining.
Its ego, just ego, nothing more than my ego, explained Miami estate-buyer Alan Richardson after his $5,000 bid ended a long, barking duel for a pair of overstuffed leather chairs that were appraised at $1,200. Im notorious throughout the industry when I want something, I get it. I always have the last bid.
Richardson may have been exaggerating, but not very much. He was wearing a $100,000 Audemars Piguet wristwatch, part of the loot from his $1.3 million buying spree at another confiscation auction on Thursday. And in the first two hours of the Madoff auction, he had already spent $15,000 on impulse buys like antique golf clubs (I dont play, but theyre very decorative) while he waiting for his real targets: a pair of landscape oil paintings, each appraised at more than $100,000.
If I dont buy them, whoever does is really going to pay for them, Richardson promised. And he was good to his word. After he beat down a trio of New York art dealers for the first one at $137,000, they sulkily stalked out, refusing to speak to reporters. The thoroughly cowed crowd let Richardson get away with the second painting for $65,000, less than half its appraised price.
Other dealers fared better. Jay Chatellier, who flew in from Basking Ridge, N.J. for the auction, won the frantic bidding for a tin sculpture of a bull though he had to pay $5,000 for an item appraised at $210. The disparity was the result not of Madoffs notoriety, he said, but a cockeyed appraisal.
Its a good piece of American folk art, possibly from the 19th century, and I think I got a very good deal, Chatellier said. Obviously, a lot of other people wanted it, too. I dont want to say the value is subjective, but folk art has its niche.
Chatelliers main competition for the bull came from online buyers, whose aggressive bidding was only magnified by their sinister number-only anonymity. They purchased some of the auctions most peculiar items, so well never know why somebody would pay $200 for 14 pairs of Madoffs underwear. (Boxers, if you must know.) Or $4,600 for a work titled Nude by Depression-era photographer Edward Weston that, to the un-art-educated eye, looks like a picture of a big white butt.
I dont know why everybody wanted it so badly, said Palm Island real estate broker L.B. Smith, who dropped out of the bidding at $4,000. Theres no big secret value to it that Im aware of. I guess its just a striking work.
Smith was bidding on behalf of a European artist he wouldnt identify who is systematically acquiring Madoff possessions for an installation later this year at the Art Basel exhibition. Several other bidders were doing much the same. Mike Burd, who flew in from Long Island, bought $1,550 worth of hardback books for a French visual artist working on a Madoff project.
I never read, said Burd, who makes his living as an eBay magnate after his marketing degree from Nassau Community College failed to land him a job. But through pure dumb luck, I wound up buying a lot of books at the Madoff auction in New York last year. And I made a fortune on them. And some of these books have his signature inside, so I can sell those on eBay and get a great price.
Burd was unaware that one of the books with Madoffs signature was The Chamber, a John Grisham novel about the death penalty. Oooh, irony, he whistled. Better yet! Let me write that down.
Most of the auctions proceeds will go toward restitution for the victims of Madoffs fraud. But few of Saturdays buyers seemed motivated by good-deed-doing. Im not even sure Madoff is guilty of anything, said fashion impresario Giulia Ozyesilpinar, who successfully bid $31,000 for a 1952 Rolex watch. A lot of greedy people invested with him, people who didnt like the slow real estate market and wanted more money. Im not sure if Madoff is guilty, or if he was God-sent to punish greedy people.
Ozyesilpinar was interested in the watch because, shes heard, it was once owned by the French Olympic skier Jean-Claude Killy. And anyway, she added, its a good investment. I think Madoff paid $80,000 for it, she said. To pay $31,000 for something that cost $80,000, thats good business, dont you think?
Looks like Madoff is still suckering fools.
Those who know .... ain't sayin'.
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