The auctioneer who has disposed of unclaimed cars at the Minneapolis impound lot has conducted an estimated 28 auctions in the past year without a required license.
Auctioneer Mark Friederichs admitted that he let his license lapse for a year until that was called to his attention and he renewed it last week. He said the lapse was inadvertent.
State law requires auctioneers to be licensed, and the contract between the city and Friederichs requires him to have that license. The city in 2013 contracted with Friederichs for $50,000 for one year, and has extended that contract annually. The contract requires Friederichs to present a current Hennepin County license for the contract to stay in effect. He said he has auctioned vehicles for the city for 23 years.
The city has not responded to Star Tribune questions about the license lapse, including why it didn’t require Friederichs to demonstrate he was licensed, as its contract requires, for the most recent extension covering 2016. According to county records, his license expired in October, 2015.
Because auctioneers must have a surety bond under state law, Friederichs said he typically pays his insurer the bond fee and waits for the bond to be issued by his insurer before he sends it in with his license renewal. He said in 2015 he paid the bond but never got the paperwork from the insurer.
“It just didn’t dawn on me,” he said. Friederichs does business as Seller USA, which is based in Golden Valley.
The license lapse came to light when auction customer Sherrie Williams of Brooklyn Park, checked with the county. She said she was misinformed about the inspection process required for vehicles purchased at auction.
Every month, the city of Minneapolis auctions unclaimed vehicles in the municipal impound lot at 51 Colfax Av. N., an industrial area just to the northwest of downtown. The outdoor auctions typically draw dozens of bidders vying for 100 or more vehicles, many of them rusted, dented or sitting on flat tires.
State law provides a misdemeanor penalty for selling or attempting to sell property by auction without a license. Friederichs drew a distinction between that and his impound auctions, for which he called the auction and determined the winning bidder but didn’t act as the fiscal agent. He compared it to a church organist who is hired for a service without belonging to the denomination.
Greg Christian, president of the Minnesota State Auctioneers Association, called the Friederichs situation a “gray area” and said he’s never heard of an auctioneer being prosecuted for lacking a license.
The disposal of vehicles has been an issue before for the city.
The Star Tribune reported in 2011 that the city was failing to turn over to the previous owners in almost all cases money remaining after city expenses for towing, storage and other costs. After that, the city quickly agreed to notify people if they have money coming to them after the auctions. It settled a class-action lawsuit by agreeing to advertise that people whose cars were towed and auctioned within the previous seven years might have money coming to them.
Staff writer Matt McKinney contributed to this article.