Crowds arrive for auction at failed Cedar Falls brokerage headquarters

About 1,200 lots to be sold off at Wasendorf's former company

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Eric Vander Schaaf said he came to the bankruptcy auction at Peregrine Financial Group prepared.

“I did a lot of research on electronics, like the TVs and whatnot,” he said.

He ended up leaving the auction by 2 p.m., walking out empty-handed.

He said he could find no bargains.

“It’s a little bit less, but I didn’t feel like spending close to market price,” said Vander Schaaf, a junior at the University of Northern Iowa. “I’m giving up.”

There were plenty of others who didn’t. By late afternoon, most of the estimated 500 bidders who jammed the former PFG headquarters building in rural Cedar Falls had stuck around. Combined with online bidders, there were more than 1,000 participants in the auction, according to Woodland Hills, Calif.-based Great American Group, which had catalogued more than 1,200 lots over a six-week process.

The proceeds of the auction of items that had belonged to PFG and its now-jailed CEO, Russell Wasendorf Sr., were to go to PFG’s creditors. Wasendorf has pleaded guilty to defrauding PFG customers out of more than $200 million. He is in custody in Cedar Rapids, awaiting sentencing.

Everything, including kitchen sinks, were for sale at Wednesday’s auction.

A number of bidders, in addition to Vander Schaaf, walked away less than impressed with the bargains.

“I think some people are overpaying,” said Larry Sweeting of Cedar Falls, who said he was bidding for chairs and the a Peregrine sculpture that Wasendorf had commissioned for the entry foyer of the headquarters building, which Wasendorf opened as his company’s base in 2009.

“You’ve got the online bidding that really raises the number of participants,” Sweeting said. “I didn’t expect them to be that many. It helps them recoup some of their losses for their customers.”

But, there were few bargains to be had, Sweeting said.

“I figured items would be $200-$300, and chairs going for $450,” he said. “If you’re going to pay that much for a chair, especially these desk-side chairs, you might as well buy the chair you want. If you buy six of them, for that price, it’s not much of a deal.”

Sweeting said he had hoped to bid on the Peregrine, which auctioneers said was told had a value of more than $40,000.

He said he wouldn’t go nearly that high.

“I’d pay a grand, but I’m not going to pay $3,000 or $4,000 for it,” he said.

Nobody had to, as it turned out.

The bidding for the sculpture started at $2,500. It sold for $7,000 to an online bidder.

A watch valued at $18,000 went for $9,500.

Duane Hugill of Waterloo said he was looking for construction equipment.

“A forklift, backhoe, if it’s cheap,” he said.

He didn’t seem to have much hope of securing a good buy.

“A little expensive; I think they’re paying retail,” he said.

The queues of vehicles began pouring through the gates of the former headquarters of now-defunct Peregrine Financial Group Inc. a little after 8 a.m. for the auction.

The size of the crowd caused a delay in the start of the proceedings.

Each bidder paid $500 each for the privilege of participating, whether on-site or online.

On the block were vehicles, office furniture, electronic equipment, restaurant fixtures, 3,200 bottles of wine and a long list of other items, according to Peter Wyke, Great American Group’s senior vice president and operations, who helped direct the auction with Mark Weitz, company president.

An inspection of all the items going on the block, which was held Tuesday at three sites, drew 700 people, Wyke said.

"Everything will go," Wyke said Wednesday morning before the auction.

The event was expected to last well into the evening, Wyke said. As it was, the auctioneers were averaging about 100 sales per hour for much of the day.

The first property to go was computer equipment, followed by office furniture, vehicles, the wine collection and restaurant equipment. An iMac monitor was the first item to go, to an online bidder, for $800.

The pace was brisk, and it kept going. Pauses between sales were brief.

Many of the items were available for inspection even during the auction, with offices packed with computer monitors, TV screens, chairs, desks and other tagged property. Vehicles, including the1957 Ford Thunderbird, as well as the 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier in which Wasendorf was found unconscious after a suicide attempt Jul y 9, were parked in the company’s underground garage.

Bidders either present or following the proceedings online in real time, also could see images of the items that were on the block.

"They can watch video online with the auctioneer or they just raise their pad here, and the auctioneer watches both," Wyke said. "It's just simultaneous."

The wine like was likely to take the most time to sell, since bidders could make offers by lot or by individual bottle, Wyke said.

"You can buy some in groups of one bottle, some five bottles, some 40 bottles, so you pick which ones you want and buy the bottles," he said.

In all, the auctioneers had about 1,200 lots to unload.

Top bidders will pay for their purchases by Thursday. They can pick up items from the Wasendorf and corporate residences over the weekend or from the myVerona Restaurant, corporate offices or the PFG warehouse in Cedar Falls by the end of next week, Wyke said.

"We'll be here until it's empty," Wyke said.

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