Authorized auction: But still no Dowdell verdict

Six weeks have passed since a federal judge began the punishment phase in the trial of one of the world's biggest thieves. And while judge J. Harry Michael is still ruminating on how long to lock up Terry Dowdell, the Albemarle man who confessed to bilking investors out of as much as $120 million, more spoils of Dowdell's scamming have hit the auction block.

About 100 eager buyers filled 1942 Richmond Road Wednesday, June 25, to snap up the leftovers of Authorized Auto Service. Prosecutors say Dowdell used the Pantops-area business as a money-laundering, family-employing enterprise. Less than a year after its founding, the business was taken over by a court-appointed receiver and closed in January.

Before it became Authorized Auto, the metal-walled building had long been the site of New York Carpet World, whose television pitchman was constantly advertising imminently ending "sales." On this day, however, the sales really did carry an expiration date.

"We're in a crowded situation here today, ladies and gentlemen," intoned the auctioneer. "You need to get all your stuff out of here by June 30. Obviously, we're not expecting you to put the lifts in your pickup truck."

Besides the ten massive auto lifts, the former car-repair shop– thanks to the unwitting largesse of hundreds of duped investors– was stocked with the latest equipment: compressors, diagnostic tools– not to mention a 2001 GMC Denali, about a dozen alloy wheels, neon under-car kits, chrome accessories, and at least four different varieties of Armor All.

Each member of the almost all-male crowd– many sporting work shirts with embroidered first names– endured sweltering showroom heat and handed over a $200 cash deposit in order to bid. What were they seeking?

"Whatever's cheap," laughed a representative of Beverage Tractor in Stuarts Draft, declining to give his name and devilishly bucking the name-on-shirt trend.

Bryan Farrar drove three hours from Graham, North Carolina, for the sale. His successful $1,200 bid snagged two walls' worth of accessories, which he'll offer for resale on eBay. "I don't know if it'll make double," says Farrar, "but it should make good money."

The Farrar family are 30-year veterans of the auction business. In order to stock their typical 500 eBay sales per week, they have to attend a lot of sales. "My brother usually comes," explains Farrar, "but he's in Orlando right now at the eBay conference."

This wasn't the first auction to disperse Dowdell's ill-gotten gains. In May, buyers and curiosity-seekers thronged the former Dowdell mansion in the Ivy-area neighborhood of Rosemont.

Featuring a waterfall-enhanced gunnite-and-tile pool, the house went for $1.045 million, and a nearby empty lot brought $203,500. Other goodies included four late-model vehicles, a few signed Thomas Kinkade prints, and a 45-diamond tennis bracelet.

Auctions have come a long way in Albemarle County. When Emmett Boaz was growing up in Covesville in the early 1960s, he says a typical auction was at a failed farm.

"My father was a farmer," says Boaz, "and he lasted longer than most." Boaz, who calls auctions "funerals for businesses," says he used to sell hot dogs and hamburgers as a church fund-raiser at farm auctions. "Everybody knew everybody," says Boaz. "Albemarle was dirt-poor."

On June 6, Judge Michael– trying to remedy the poverty to which Dowdell may have reduced investors in his so-called "Vavasseur scheme"– signed a civil order demanding that Dowdell come up with $130 million in payback. A week earlier, Dowdell sat in his jail-issue stripes as his lawyers insisted that eight years– and not life in prison– would be an appropriate sentence.

Back at the auction, noted auto repair expert Grant Cosner stood in the massive repair bay and took solace in his belief that the technicians laid off in the Authorized closing were able to quickly find work. "There were some very good people working here," said Cosner. "They didn't know anything about [the scam]."

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