The Ritchie Bros. auction company has filed a response to a suit brought by Russo and Steele, denying the suit’s allegations of conspiring to undermine Russo’s relationship with Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, where it has held its collector car auction during Arizona Auction Week since 2016.
The plot laid out in the Russo and Steele suit is that Ritchie Bros., a global heavy-equipment auctioneer that now owns the Leake collector car auction company, convinced Salt River Fields not to renew its lease agreement so that Leake could take over the desirable location during the annual 2020 car auction week.
Salt River Fields is located on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community land adjacent to Scottsdale, where most of the other collector car auctions are held in January. Russo and Steele, a Scottsdale company, held its January 2019 auction there.
According to the suit, Ritchie and Leake conspired with an independent contractor working as director of operations for Russo to convince Salt River to end Russo’s leasing agreement. The suit names Ritchie Brothers, Leake and company executives Gary and Muffy Bennett, a married couple, as the perpetrators of efforts to destroy Russo and Steele’s standing and reputation with the Indian community, which led to the non-renewal of the contract in October 2018.
Drew Alcazar, who owns and operates Russo and Steele with his wife, Josephine, says he was “blindsided” when the Indian community ended the relationship, and then appalled when, he says, they discovered incriminating evidence in company electronic files, mail and phone record that the contractor, Mark Landolfi, had been secretly working for Ritchie and Leake.
Russo also has sued Landolfi in the alleged conspiracy.
The Ritchie Bros. response says that none of the conspiracy allegations are factual and that they only took advantage of the availability of the venue because the Russo contract was canceled.
The response also claims that Russo and Steele has obtained a new auction venue in Scottsdale for its January 2o20 sale so that it has sustained limited if any damages from the loss of Salt River Fields.
The response also states that Russo knew that Salt River Fields was negotiating with Leake for the location “at or near the time” that its contract was not renewed.
“Rather than take the appropriate steps to ensure a successful (January 2020) auction in North Scottsdale,” the response alleges, “R&S instead issued a press release to notify the public that it has no venue, when in fact it has a venue, and to blame Ritchie Bros. for its own failed relationship with Salt River Fields. R&S therefore failed to mitigate against the future damages it claims it will suffer.”
The Ritchie Bros. response seeks that the Russo suit and monetary claims be dismissed with prejudice, meaning it can’t be refiled, and that Russo should pay Ritchie’s attorney fees and other costs associated with the suit.
Arizona Auction Week has become a critical time for the collector car market, when seven auction companies – now eight in 2020 with the addition of Leake – conduct sales. Cumulatively, the auctions are considered a key indicator of classic car values as it kicks off the calendar year of international sales.