This week, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection authorized Blumenthal's office to subpoena records from Northeast Galleries and any associated companies. Commissioner Jerry Farrell, Jr. said the company's advertisements raise serious questions about whether they're "meant to trick customers into believing that items are actually from Bernard Madoff's financial victims, when in fact, they may not be."
"Invoking the name of a famous fraud criminal to pitch bogus items from fictitious victims would certainly be the height of arrogance and public deception," said Farrell in a press release.
Artworks on display at the auction in Avon were labeled "U.S. Auction Corp." and included a Leonia, New Jersey address, the Courant reported.
The national Better Business Bureau and its offices in New York, New Jersey, and Conn. said they haven't received any complaints about a U.S. Auction Corp. or Northeast Galleries, Inc.
Calls to the offices of Northeast Galleries, Inc. were not returned by press time. An e-mail sent to the address found on the company Web site was returned as undeliverable.
When ABC News tried to reach Briscoe by phone numbers listed for him, messages said the numbers had been disconnected. A phone number for his son and business partner, Dominic Antiny Briscoe, was also inactive.
Similar auctions have been held across the Eastern U.S., including those arranged by Atlanta-based Southern Star Auctioneers and affiliated companies.
Like Northeast Galleries, the company uses newspaper advertisements to promote its auctions. The ads are stickers slapped on the front page of the paper, and include the claim that the auction is "Due to the Losses Caused by Bernie Madoff," as well as a list of the luxury items for sale, like artwork by Peter Max, Salvador Dali, and Norman Rockwell, Rolex watches and other "flashy items."
In garbled English, the ad indicates that the items were "duly instructed by Millionaire's estate as well as other prominent traders" and says "Seized assets and general order merchandise will be auctioned off to the highest bidder to recover losses from Ponzi scheme." At the bottom, however, in fine print, it notes "Items available for sale did not belong to Bernie Madoff."
"If a business advertises itself as a 'Bernie Madoff Auction,' but doesn't have any Bernie Madoff items, then I would call that a scam," Alison Southwick, national media relations manager for the Better Business Bureau, told ABC News.
"The fine print doesn't always get you off the hook," said Southwick. "If enough people are getting misled, the fine print is too fine."