Southern Star solicits items from Madoff victims on its Web site, madoffhelpline.com. "If you have been a victim of the Maddoff ponzi scheme," it says (misspelling Madoff's name), "and would like to liquidate your fine art or jewelry at one of our future auctions contact us."
Representatives of the company have said that 20 percent of the items at past auctions came from Madoff victims. When asked by a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean to indicate which items at the Nashville auction were from Madoff victims, however, auctioneer Avi Asher said he could not. According to the Tennessean, Asher also did not mention Madoff during bidding at the auction.
Southern Star is registered to Dion Abadi of suburban Atlanta. Dion and his brother Gavin have operated various auction and estate liquidation firms in recent years, including Lyndhurst Auctioneers, DA Auctioneers, D & G Auctioneers, State Liquidation Services and Under the Hammer. Both Dion and Gavin have held auctioneer's licenses in multiple states. Calls and e-mails to the firms registered to Dion and Gavin Abadi were not returned.
According to a report earlier this month in Time magazine, Dion Abadi was sanctioned twice in 2008 by the Florida Board of Auctioneers for violating rules about "false, deceptive, misleading or untruthful advertising."
The Atlanta Better Business Bureau has given DA Auctioneers a failing grade for not responding to any of the three complaints they've had in the past 36 months.
"For a small company, that's fairly significant," Southwick said.
Ron Stein, whose in-laws were victimized by the Madoff scam, has asked Southern Star to take down its madoffhelpline.com Web site. In January, Stein founded his own Web site, madoff-help.com, a non-profit to help other Madoff victims.
"It's unfortunate that people are looking to make money off the very tragedy that has affected so many lives," said Stein.
Stein has repeatedly asked Southern Star to take the site down or change the name and says the company has refused to do so. "This has been going on for months now," he said, "but we have bigger fish to fry at this point."
"While it is upsetting," said the BBB's Southwick, "it's not really that surprising that someone is trying to fool people into thinking they can own a little piece of history connected to the Madoff Ponzi scheme."
Auctioneer John Schmidt told WSYR that anything Madoff is a hot item. "If it's got Bernie Madoff's name on it, it's like Gucci or Versace," he said. "They want it."
Fewer than 20 people attended the so-called Madoff auction in Syracuse, including a collector who traveled from Westchester, N.Y.
"I saw the ad, saw Bernie Madoff stuff and thought I'd come have a look," said Lester Ford, a private dealer in antiques and other collectibles. On November 14, he attended an official U.S. Marshals-sanctioned auction of the seized assets of the Madoff estate in New York City, which raised close to $1 million for victims of Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Ford came away empty-handed. He hoped to have better luck at the Syracuse sale, but wasn't very disappointed at the lack of actual Madoff items there.
"I really don't mind. A lot of the artwork they have is really wonderful."