Supervisors consider legal action against auctioneer

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Lincoln County Board of Supervisors may be on the verge ofengaging in legal action to recover a delinquent payment from anembattled auction company in Forrest County.

Supervisors on Monday authorized board attorney Bob Allen tobegin an initial inquiry into the possibility of suingBrooklyn-based Durham Auctions for an unpaid sum of $20,878.50. Thesum was accumulated when the company sold five county-owned piecesof equipment in auction on May 30 and 31.

County Administrator David Fields said Durham Auctions – whichthe county has used many times over the years to sell surplusequipment with no difficulties – sold two 2000 New Hollandtractors, a 1996 Dodge pickup, a 1989 Dodge pickup, a 1988Chevrolet pickup and a 1985 Chevrolet pickup for a combined totalof $22,450. The company keeps 7 percent of the total – or $1,571.50- as commission.

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Fields said the county last week received a mass letter from thecompany asking its clients to be patient while its financialtroubles are sorted out. He said the letter stated that paymentswould be made as soon as possible.

“Normally, they settle up usually within a week or so after thesale,” Fields said. “To be honest, you just don’t think about it -[the equipment has] been over there a month or two, and you don’tthink about the sale. Then we got this letter and realized, ‘Hey,they never did pay us for that!'”

Fields said he forwarded the letter to Allen, who recommendedlegal action in Monday’s meeting. Allen said he hopes the mattercan be resolved before it goes to court.

“What we’re doing at this point is contemplating how we’re goingto go about doing that,” he said.

Allen said a decision on whether to sue the company could bereached by the early part of next week.

But the pending case may be more complicated than simplybringing suit.

Durham Auctions owner Don Durham was arrested in late August onembezzlement charges for reportedly owing the city of Kenner, La.,more than $500,000 from an auction of surplus property, includingFederal Emergency Management Agency trailers. More than half of thenet sales are owed to the federal government.

The company also had its auctioning license revoked by theMississippi Auctioneer Commission last week after four majorinfractions, including failing to make payments in a timely mannerand improper account management. The company will be unable to holdauctions and cannot reapply for a license until 2013.

If Durham Auctions files for bankruptcy, there may be littleAllen can do to recover the county’s proceeds. But if Durham’scriminal proceedings require that full restitutions be made, thework may already be done.

“From the contents of the letter, it appears that he is tryingto work his way though this,” Allen said.

Fields said the proceeds from the auction, if recovered, wouldgo into the budgets of the supervisors who cleared the equipmentfor sale.