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Suspended Kruse hopes to keep famous auction going

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The owner of a long-running classic car auction in northern Indiana hopes to keep it going, possibly by selling the business to someone else, after his license was revoked, his attorney said Wednesday.

The Indiana Auctioneer Commission permanently revoked Kruse International's auction license Tuesday after hearing complaints about business practices that left dozens of people awaiting payment for cars and other items sold at Kruse auctions.

The panel also suspended Dean Kruse's auctioneer's license for two years, fined him and his company a combined $70,000, and ordered him to pay former clients the $300,000 he owes them.

Katie Blackburn, the commission's assistant board director, said the civil fine is among the harshest ever doled out by the panel. And, she said, the fine could have been twice as big but the commission thought it was better for Kruse to pay his clients.

"That was the state and the commissioners' primary concern — that he pay those people back," she said. "They didn't want the civil penalty to impede his ability to do that."

Blackburn said Kruse must submit quarterly reports to the panel documenting his progress in paying back the $300,000 over the next 3½ years.

For Kruse, the panel's actions marked the end of the classic car auctions he first hosted in 1971 in Auburn, about 20 miles north of Fort Wayne, at the company his father founded.

Those auctions have drawn tens of thousands of visitors to Auburn each Labor Day weekend. Bidders competed to buy rare and classic autos, including cars once owned by Clark Cable, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. Other buildings 110-acre site auctioned off collectibles, firearms and other items.

Kruse's attorney, John Price, said his 69-year-old client would like to find some way to keep the annual auction alive, possibly by finding another auction company to run this year's event. He said Kruse also is considering selling his company and the property.

Price said the annual auction is Indiana's third-highest attended outdoor tourism event.

Kruse's business problems started with the recession that began in 2008, Price said. People who bought cars at the September 2008 and 2009 auctions ended up owing Kruse millions of dollars. Kruse, in turn, owed the cars' former owners money he didn't have.

Although the 70 counts filed by the state attorney general's office said Kruse owed clients about $1.5 million, by Tuesday's meeting he had paid all but $300,000.

Price said Kruse took out a $4.5 million loan on his Auburn home and sold some of his possessions to help pay his debts. At one point, he owed about $7 million, he said.

Kruse has no plans to file for bankruptcy protection, Price said, noting that if his client was going to do that he would have done so before he borrowed against his home.

"The easiest thing in the world would have been for him to declare bankruptcy, washed everybody out and went on with his life, but he's not that kind of guy," Price said.

Auburn Mayor Norm Yoder said the Kruse auctions, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival and a gathering of hundreds of owners of classic Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs filled up hotels and restaurants in his city with car-lovers each Labor Day weekend.

He hopes Kruse can find some other company to stage the auctions so that the city still has three big events to lure in visitors.

"Obviously, when you have a three-legged stool and one leg gets hurt, it's not going to be as good. These three events all support the other," Yoder said.

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