City sues to recover money from auction of surplus cars

Contractor's attorney disputes amount owed

July 08, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore has filed suit against a Towson auctioneer it contends owes the city $744,636 in proceeds from the sale of surplus cars.

City Solicitor Otho M. Thompson told the city Board of Estimates yesterday that the city has also asked State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy to review the debt owed by Auction Alliances Services Inc. for possible criminal violations.

An audit by city Comptroller Joan M. Pratt's office revealed last month that the city had failed to collect $954,636 owed from surplus automobiles sold on behalf of the city. Auction Alliances, operated by Fred J. Winer, paid the city $210,000 after the discovery but said it didn't have the remainder of the money.

The city filed suit earlier this week in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Baltimore attorney James P. Ulwick, who is representing the company, said yesterday that his clients acknowledge owing the city money but dispute the amount. The company said the $744,636 that the city contends it is owed contains penalties that the company will likely contest, Ulwick said.

"I don't think it's a criminal case, it's a dispute over money," Ulwick said. "We acknowledge that we owe some money to the city. Whether it's the huge amount they've asked for is another thing."

Two years ago, Auction Alliances won a 1997 contract to sell surplus city vehicles every other Wednesday at the city impoundment lot on Pulaski Highway. The cars were abandoned by owners in the city or removed from the city's fleet.

The company also held auctions four times a year to sell other surplus city items. Last month, the city Board of Estimates hired a new auctioneer, Atlantic Auctions Inc.

In another audit released yesterday, Pratt's office conducted a review of the city's Department of Housing and Community Development spending of $1 million in homeless services grants.

The routine study of payments made to five agencies found only one excessive transportation bill that auditors recommend should result in the Maryland Homeless Veterans returning $757 to the city, the report said.

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