For the 250 people at an art auction in Rosslyn Sunday, the bidding seemed intense, but when $900 was offered for a Norman Rockwell print, it was too much for one would-be art collector. He dashed out of the hall to complain to Arlington police that the audience had to be laced with shills who were deliberately raising the bids.
It was a new complaint to Arlington police, several of whom yesterday said they could not remember any similar allegations. But Officer Stan Garber quickly discovered state law on auctions and rushed off to catch the last hour of the art sale.
The sale, held at a conference room at the Ramada Inn, was sponsored by Renaissance Fine Arts, an Ohio firm directed by Cornell Gabos, according to police.
According to investigator Garber, two men in the auction audience made the highest bids on several of the prints offered for sale. Yet when the auction was over they did not pay for the prints, a violation of Virginia auction laws, he said.
Police said they found one of the bidders loading unsold prints into a truck ouside the hotel. A second man was arrested leaving the auction.
Gabos, 40, of University Heights, Ohio, was charged with employing boosters in an auction, and Jeffrey (John) R. Allen, 24, of Derwood, Md., and Steven George Pollack, 18, of Cleveland, were charged with acting as boosters at the auction. All charges are misdemeanors.
Gabos is also charged with operating an auction without a state license, another misdemeanor.
If convicted each man could face fines of up to $500 and a prison sentence of up to six months.
One of the men, Garber said, submitted high bids on between $2,000 and $4,000 worth of art but he had $67 in his pocket and no checks or credit cards when arrested.
Garber said the police found no evidence of fraud in the advertising or representation of the art prints.
Garber said boosters are used to raise prices paid by customers, to bid on art that is not selling well, allowing the owner to retain the art rather than sell below cost and to stimulate bidding among customers.
Gabos reached yesterday at his gallery in Ohio, said Allen and Pollack were not employed by him or on his payroll. They bid on their own for art at the sale, he said.
He said the men often came to his auctions in the Washington area since both have relatives here and that he asks favors of them, such as watching the doors. Gabos said he usually rewards the men by taking them out to dinner.
"They are definitely not in our employ and working for us," Gabos said. "We do know them. We have a lot of friends who come to the shows for years."
Gabos, who said he has brought his auctions to Arlington at leat once a year for the last three years, said his accountant had failed to secure the state and county business licenses for the auction.
County records show that in the past he has secured the licenses.
Officer Garber asked that anyone at the auction who noticed unusual bidding to contact him at police headquarters.