By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)
In 2001, I attempted to sell my home via the traditional means. My listing was with ReMax, but I wasn’t happy with the snail’s pace everything seemed to move at. It was not the fault of my agent but rather a simple reflection of the reality of traditional real estate listings in that they do not create any urgency to buy.
About five weeks into my listing, I noticed an ad in the real estate section of the paper for an upcoming real estate auction. The ad got my attention, so I called the owner of the real estate auction company. Thereafter, I attended four of his auctions before deciding that was the route I wanted to go. My auctioneer, at that time, had a 20-year stellar record of successful auctions (it’s now nearly 35 years). I was impressed by his professionalism and how the auction method could generate a firm, unconditional offer accompanied by a 10% liquidated damages deposit on a definite date and time that was within only about 30 days of executing the auction listing. I utilized his services (even keeping my ReMax agent in the mix), and I was pleased with the results. Consequently, within days of us closing, I called him and asked if I could join his company. He blew me off in saying, “Sure, but you have to get your real estate license first.” He later said he thought that was the last he’d ever hear from me, but I surprised him when I called only three weeks later indicating I’d procured the real estate license and asking what I needed to do next.
Over the next two years, he taught me everything one needs to know to be a successful real estate auctioneer. His honesty, his integrity, and his ethics are beyond reproach, and they’re reflected in his auction results. He instilled such confidence in me that I even formed my own auction company and began auctioning real estate properties myself. I enjoyed helping solve people’s problems more than anything I’ve done in my entire professional career.
As many Louisiana Voice readers are aware, Gov. Jindal’s office contacted me within months of his taking office about serving on the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB). I would later learn I was contacted only because other applicants had felony convictions or other problems and were ineligible to serve. I figured I had zero chance of being selected because I never contributed a dime to Jindal’s campaign and, except for 2003 (the year he lost), I didn’t even vote for him. Nevertheless, I completed the application and figured that would be the end of it. To my bewilderment, his office called me about six weeks later congratulating me on being selected to serve on the board. I should have known something was wrong right then because it just didn’t make sense to be selected to serve on a board with no political allegiance to the governor. Nevertheless, I naively felt honored to have been selected and anxiously looked forward to improving the auction experience for Louisiana consumers.
What I didn’t know was that I would encounter rampant racism on the board and that corruption was so prevalent that I had trouble believing any board could conduct itself in such an anti-consumer, auctioneer-biased manner. I’ve written several articles already on this blog regarding what I encountered in my early days on the board, so I won’t repeat them here.
Even with all I encountered, however, I never dreamed the LALB could stoop as low as it has in the last six months. Readers may recall the post entailing 84-year-old widow LALB complainant Betty Jo Story. That case stands out as the most egregious abuse of any auction victim I’ve seen, yet LALB members found the auctioneer guilty of nothing and merely advised him to “go out in the hallway and work this out.” Instead, he proceeded straight past Ms. Story and headed back to his home in DeRidder. Thereafter, he refused to try and make things right with her, so she sued him in 36th JDC in DeRidder. On October 29, 2014, serving in a pro-se capacity (and doing so quite well I might add), she obtained a judgment of $4,102.29, which the auctioneer paid within a week.
Even more disconcerting, however, was the preferential treatment granted to Brant Thomson, son of State Sen. Francis Thompson. In that case, the LALB closed its investigation (finding no auctioneer wrongdoing), only to reopen it and find the auctioneer guilty and even file Thompson’s bond claim for him after he drafted a scathing letter to the LALB and had the presence of mind to copy to Ms. Holly Robinson, Gov. Jindal’s then-head of Boards and Commissions. That incident is covered in this post.
Another complainant, Ms. Judy Fasola, claimed she was victimized by auctioneer Ken Buhler, who happens to have Marvin Henderson as his lead cheerleader with the LALB. Henderson, a substantial contributor to Jindal campaigns, has historically exerted control over the board which, for whatever reason, is intimidated by him and his self-proclaimed (and no doubt accurately stated) ability to have members removed from the board with a mere phone call to the governor. The LALB is afraid to assist any person, and that most certainly includes Fasola, in an auction complaint when such assistance may alienate Henderson (as pursuing a bond claim entailing Buhler or any affiliate of his would).
LALB cited a number of reasons for refusing to file a bond claim for Fasola at its November 5, 2014 meeting. Thereafter, on January 13, 2015, Fasola refuted the LALB members’ November statements as being factually incorrect (a claim substantiated by prior videos). That fact notwithstanding, at its March 10, 2015 meeting, the LALB, via a prepared statement drafted by legal counsel Larry S. Bankston, but read by his associate, Jenna Linn, stated that the board has “total discretion” regarding whom it wishes to file bond claims for and whom it wishes to decline to do so. That is not a joke. That’s what Linn read from Bankston’s letter.
Given this public statement, perhaps it would be appropriate that consumers refrain from using the services of auctioneers. The rationale is simple. If a primary source of consumer protection is the auctioneer bond, and the LALB is now publicly asserting that it can cherry pick whom it will file bond claims for, that leaves consumers at the whim of political connections affiliated with the board. When combined with the board’s demonstrated history of filing a claim for a politically connected alleged victim like Brant Thompson but declining to do so when it may alienate political powerhouse auctioneer Henderson, why should any consumer have faith and confidence in an auctioneer? It’s time to face reality. Though there are exceptions, the auction industry is corrupt and the board designed to protect consumers is even more corrupt.
I conclude by providing a webpage of Fasola’s three-meeting ordeal, complete with links for documents and video coverage. Additionally, I provide this webpage of video highlights of the March 10, 2015 LALB meeting. Linn rudely cut off my public comment when I referenced “FBI investigations,” so I provide an off-site assessment of why she likely recoiled when I uttered those words.
I have no idea if the next governor will do anything to clean up the mass of corruption, nepotism, and cronyism that exists on the LALB. If he doesn’t, I would recommend a continued boycott of auctioneer services. To do otherwise would be an injustice to the many clients and bidders I fought so hard to ensure access to experienced honest, open, and transparent auctions.