Auction Finds

The spoils of an alleged Ponzi scheme

I wasn’t sure what to expect before I entered the auction house to see how Robert Stinson Jr. had spent the money that the federal government has accused him of conning from investors.

Stinson and his family had lived in a 7,700-square foot home (that cost them $8,500 a month to rent), and I was sure it took plenty of bucks to furnish and maintain it. I went to the auction house a few days before to preview the property that had been seized by federal marshals and a court-appointed receiver.

One room at the auction house was filled with items, some of which were still in boxes in the basement of Robert Stinson Jr.'s home when they were confiscated.

So what exactly did he buy? And how lavish did he live? The government has accused him of bilking investors out of $17 million since 2006 in a Ponzi scheme.

When I entered the door, the first room was occupied with a variety of items set up on the floor, on shelves and counters, and in glass cases. The auction sheet listed 491 items among the best stuff, not including a room filled with less-expensive box lots.

Exercise equipment. Floor model deep fryer. Dyson vacuum cleaner (it still had dust in it and some scrapes). Red KitchenAid mixer. Ionizers (I didn’t know exactly what they were for). Juicers. Fender and Gibson guitars. Marshall and other amplifiers. Complete set of Sex and the City DVDs.
Bedding. Cameras. Sony PlayStations. Big Bertha golf clubs. Signed baseballs. Jewelry. Six crystal quartz skulls. Bread machine. Floor heater. Large propane grill. And more.

In the next room were massive bedroom and dining room sets fit for a house the size of the Stinsons. Along one wall were four big-screen TVs, the largest of which was 73″. A Frigidaire refrigerator. A pair of Whirlpool Duet washer and dryer, sold separately, of course. A Brunswick pool table. Office chairs. And more.

One of the pieces that stopped me was a Steinway baby grand piano, not in the usual black but walnut. For me, it stood out like a diamond among all the other stuff. If I had a room large enough and a doorway wide enough, it would’ve come home with me.

Guitars included Fender and Gibson, along with amplifiers.

The room of box-lot items was a study in excess. Table after table of stuff, mostly new Christmas items that looked to be right out of the box. Cosmetics and dieting products. Reams of printer and copy paper. CDs, DVDs and games. Camping equipment. Old rakes and brooms. Even a Weber grill still filled with ashen coals. One auctioneer told me that many of the items had been in the Stinson’s basement still in boxes. I spied some QVC boxes.

The crème de la crème of the sale were stationed outside: 13 vehicles, including four Mercedes – the beauty a 2010 black SUV.

Stinson, 55, who lived in the town of Berwyn in the Philadelphia suburbs, has been charged with engaging in a $17 million Ponzi scheme through his Life’s Good Inc. company. He was indicted on 26 counts in November, and is out on bail and awaiting trial.

He had promised his 260 investors that that they would receive annual returns of 10 to 16 percent from investments in one of four hedge funds, according to federal prosecutors. Instead of investing the money, the government said, he spent it (and the way Ponzi schemes work, paid off previous investors). He also told investors that he was a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with loads of business experience. Actually, according to the government, he had been convicted of fraud several times before, and the Securities and Exchange Commission had directed him not to do it again.

Stinson’s wife has been charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements in the prosecution of her husband. She is expected to plead guilty, according to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Stinson is driving a taxi in Philadelphia, according to the newspaper.

The aim of the auction was to recoup as much money as possible to pay back the investors.

A bedroom set by Michael Amini that was sold at auction.

Hundreds of people turned out for the auction over the weekend, with others bidding over the internet. The place was a madhouse – loud and chaotic, especially for us regulars. We knew that prices would go into the stratosphere (which for us is around $100) because many of these folks were new bidders and wouldn’t know when to stop. In fact, the auctioneer had to keep telling people not to raise their hands if they were not bidding.

The line for a bid number was out the door, something I’d never seen before. It was standing-room only for the main bidding, with people five to six deep at the back of the room, and others lining the sides. Most apparently came for the vehicles because the auction house cleared out a bit after those were sold.

The auctioneer mentioned that federal marshals were in the house, along with the court-appointed receiver; I guess to make sure no one would steal what the government considered stolen property.

Here are some of the items and prices, which do not include the 15 percent premium:

A Mercedes GL350 SUV brought the highest bid - $46,500 - among Robert Stinson Jr.'s items.

2010 Mercedes GL350, 4,513 miles. This SUV had to be re-auctioned when the first winner backed out, refusing to pay the premium on his $53,000 bid. The second bidder had to confer with the receiver on the price. He walked away with a receipt, but I’m not sure if they agreed on the price he bidded. $46,500.

2007 Mercedes S550 sedan, 29,656 miles. $38,500.

2007 Mercedes GL450, 57,344 miles. A woman sitting in front of me bought this car, and she was delighted. Said she would’ve gone to $30,000. It sold for $29,000.

2007 BMW 530i sport sedan, 38,022 miles. An auction staffer said the car had only been picked up three days before. The government didn’t know it even existed, he said. $26,000.

2001 Mercedes S430 sedan, 157,533 miles with trunk rust, bad front suspension, knock in motor. $4,600.

2006 Nissan Altima, 48,765 miles. $7,500.

Norwalk 275 juicer. In Googling, I found that it normally sells for more than $2,000. In fact, some folks initially thought it was a meat grinder. $850.

Dyson vacuum cleaner (dust included). $180.

Hartmann Wings 5-piece luggage. $525.

Gibson Les Paul classic guitar. $1,800.

Sex & The City DVD collection. $50 or $60. Not sure of the final bid on this one.

Sony Playstation 3 Game system with games. $300.

Two of six crystal quartz skulls that were auctioned.

Six crystal skulls. $35 to $240.

Wicker arm chair, $25.

Four 14K yellow gold bracelets. $725.

Steinway baby grand piano. $5,000.

Brunswick pool table. $400.

Pair Thomas Kinkade prints. $440. They were signed and numbered prints from editions of 28,000 and 10,000.

11-piece dining room set, rococo style from Wynwood Furniture Co. $2,000.

Samsung Plasma TV. $1,200. This one had the best picture. The others sold for $425 to $675.

Whirlpool washer, $380. Dryer, $320.

3-piece dark brown leather sofa set, $500. The auctioneer said it had been delivered the same day it was removed from one of Stinson’s properties.

6-piece Michael Amini Aico “Chateau Beauvais” bedroom set. $5,200.

4-piece Michael Amini Aico “Eden” bedroom set. $4,600.

2 traditional sofas with white slipcovers over ivory upholstery, $180. A young woman got a good buy on this pair of sofas, whose slipcovers were very clean. She was thrilled.

Robert Stinson Jr.'s name on a label inside one of his tailored suits.

9 tailored suits with Stinson’s name on the inside pocket. One auctioneer guessed that they cost about $3,000 each. One of the regulars bought all of them for $10 each.

The auction raised $260,000, according to a story in the Inquirer,.

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