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Originally published June 26, 2014 at 2:08 PM | Page modified June 27, 2014 at 6:29 AM

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Folks flock to Mastro auction for high-end bargains, notoriety

Luxury items, including designer handbags, jackets, dresses and luggage, that were seized from fugitive Seattle real-estate magnate Michael Mastro and his wife Linda were auctioned off Thursday.


Seattle Times business reporter

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Bidding numbers in one hand and a list of more than 150 designer items up for auction in the other, Seattle-area women were ready to outbid each other for items once owned by Linda Mastro.

Thursday morning, auctioneers from the James G. Murphy Co. offered up luxury goods, including designer handbags, jackets, dresses and luggage, that were seized in France from fugitive Seattle real-estate magnate Michael Mastro and his wife.

The personal items, which would more commonly be seen on display in Rodeo Drive boutiques, were stacked on shelves and hung on portable racks at Murphy’s Kenmore warehouse — used for police-seizure and heavy-equipment auctions.

For two hours before the 10 a.m. auction start, potential bidders stepped from case to case, rack to rack, and purse to purse, circling on their lists which items they wanted to bid on.

Dawn Padgett, who drove from West Seattle with her husband Bob, had a system: big circles for the items she really wanted, and smaller ones for items she could live without.

She wanted Chanel.

Specifically, she had her eyes on three of the bags and three of the jackets. And because she, like Linda Mastro, wears a size 7 to 7.5, she was also considering shoes.

“I just like her stuff,” Padgett said. “I collect Chanel handbags and high-end shoes — and I do actually wear them.”

Padgett didn’t get everything she wanted during the 2½-hour affair because there were other women with fatter wallets.

She won one of the 19 Chanel purses available — for $650.

She also bought a Christian Dior bag, sunglasses and jacket, a pair of Manolo Blahnik heels and three Chanel skirts, and an iPhone for her son.

“I’m kind of in shock,” she said as she was leaving. “I need to go home and total it all up. I think I spent about $2,100. But hey, that is one Chanel handbag” at retail.

Thursday’s auction was the second large one Murphy conducted for the bankruptcy trustee in charge of recovering as much as possible of the $250 million the Mastros owe creditors. Three banks forced Michael Mastro into bankruptcy in 2009, and he and his wife fled the country to France.

A federal grand jury in Seattle indicted the Mastros on charges of bankruptcy fraud and money laundering after they disappeared.

They were arrested in France in 2012, but freed after a French court last year denied on humanitarian grounds the United States’ request to extradite them.

The first, much bigger auction of the Mastros’ possessions was in January 2012 in California, where the Mastros moved in 2010 after leaving their Medina waterfront mansion.

Bankruptcy trustee James Rigby later sold the Eastside mansion for about $9 million, he said.

The first auction fetched about $341,000.

Rigby said he has recovered an estimated $22 million.

Ray Gombiski, from Murphy, said this may be the last batch of seized Mastro belongings that his company auctions off.

The total for this auction was roughly $70,000.

The U.S. Justice Department will eventually be putting the almost 300 pieces of jewelry seized in France up for auction.

The department already released two giant diamond rings to Rigby. He sold the 27.8-carat ring at wholesale for $1 million earlier this month, and says he plans to sell the 15.93-carat ring at retail for another million.

Kathleen Huget came to the auction from Arizona with her husband, Jeff. The couple was in town to visit Jeff’s mother, but when they found out about the auction, they made sure to attend.

Huget said she first fell in love with Judith Leiber-handcrafted Swarovski jeweled handbags when she saw one at the Bellagio in Las Vegas in 1998.

She owns one. And after examining the 21 jeweled bags in shapes ranging from a butterfly to a bushel of asparagus, Huget decided she wanted the little dog.

But when the auction started and the bag passed $500 in less than 30 seconds with multiple bidders, she bowed out.

“Each one of these handbags is like a sculptural and crystal prize ... the fashionistas love them,” she said. “But when it comes to this ... it is really about the whole experience.”

Poulsbo resident Kim Vu bought a jeweled bag for $1,600. Her husband was doing the bidding as she ran around examining other items and watched worriedly while the items she wanted sat on the block.

She also got one of the coveted Chanel bags for $1,650 and a crocodile skin handbag for $900.

“The Judith Leiber bags are over $3,000 brand new,” Vu said, not caring that the auctioneer had said each of the crystal bags had some damage from the way they were packed when shipped back from France.

Don Hartleben, a 20-year Murphy auction veteran, chalked up the high prices to new people getting caught up in the moment.

He was hoping to maybe find something for his wife, but said he knew most of the items would end up going for retail price.

“First-timers will pay more than they would at a store,” he said. “Us regulars, we’ll just step back and watch.”

Other regulars and buyers with a stricter budget found it frustrating when prices went beyond their reach.

Susanna Bondar, a nursing student, drove up from Tacoma with her husband, who loves attending auctions. He took her to this one knowing she would love the items on sale, versus the tools he usually buys.

“This was the first time there was stuff for me,” Bondar said. “But one person just kept buying everything.”

Turns out one of the women attending was Jacquelyne Cortel, the buying manager for Bag Borrow or Steal, a store in downtown Seattle that rents and sells designer products.

Cortel made off with 20 handbags and about five pairs of shoes.

She also passed out fliers for the store to other people who had bid against her for certain items.

Another big spender was Janet Lanterman. She spent about $12,000 on 23 items — including a George Mamoukakis Russian sable fur coat that fetched $5,250, the highest-priced item.

All the items Lanterman bought will be donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s auction, to be held in November.

“Hopefully from that $12,000, we can generate about $100,000,” she said as she walked to collect her winning bids.

Information from The Seattle Times archive was used in this report. Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or cgarnick@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @coralgarnick



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