Scottsdale, AZ — Russo and Steele Auction owners Drew and Josephine Alcazar have filed a lawsuit against Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers and Leake Auctions that accuses Ritchie/Leake of “willfull and wanton malice” in taking over Russo and Steele’s premium auction venue at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick for its flagship Scottsdale sale, held in January during Arizona Auction Week. The legal action also names a former Russo and Steele employee.
Photo: Russo and Steele
The lawsuit, filed June 10 in Maricopa County Superior Court, details how Russo and Steele’s competitor allegedly engaged in “inequitable, unjust and irregular business conduct” that included enlisting a key Russo and Steele contractor to undermine Russo and Steele’s business relationships and leave the family-owned business without a prime location for its January 2020 Scottsdale auction.
Russo and Steele, a fixture of Arizona Auction Week for nearly two decades, had moved to the new location in Salt River Fields three years ago. Leake announced recently that it would be joining the Scottsdale auction lineup in January 2020 and would host its sale at Salt River Fields after inking a deal with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community that owns the property.
The legal filing, which seeks millions in damages, follows a months-long review of communications and business documents exchanged among the defendants, including Ritchie/Leake executives and the now-former Russo and Steele employee. The lawsuit depicts a malevolent effort to enrich the defendants at the expense of Russo and Steele by undermining the relationship between the auction and its host site on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and by forcing Russo and Steele to spend massive resources on relocation and marketing.
The alleged conduct parallels previous anti-competitive conduct by Ritchie Bros., which in 2013 was served with a multi-million dollar civil judgment for similarly targeting another competitor’s auction business. Ritchie Bros., which employs more than 1,200 people, is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
“If we had lost our venue ‘fair and square,’ we wouldn’t have dreamed of filing suit,” said Drew Alcazar, Russo and Steele’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer. “But that’s not what happened here. This wasn’t competition. This was predatory conduct aimed at destroying one of the marquee classic car auctions in the world and it cannot be allowed to stand.”
The 2020 Scottsdale auction, set for Jan. 15-19, will mark Russo and Steele’s 20th anniversary — and it will happen as scheduled, said Alcazar.
“We have a number of solid options before us and we intend to make an announcement soon,” he said. “The 20th anniversary of Russo and Steele is a tremendous milestone for our team and our family. We’re locked and loaded to make 2020 the biggest, best auction we’ve ever staged.”
Founded and originally based in British Columbia, Ritchie Bros. entered the auction business in 1958 and has specialized in the sale of used heavy equipment at more than 40 permanent sites worldwide. The company acquired Tulsa-based Leake Auctions, founded in 1972, in January 2018 after acquiring Iron Planet, an online sales marketplace, in August 2016. In its most recent corporate brochure, Ritchie Bros. reported revenue of $611 million for 2017.