A Boston-based auction house is no longer taking bids for clothing and other items that once belonged to Tom Petty amid allegations from the late rocker’s family that the items were stolen.
Petty’s family has threatened legal action against RR Auction and demanded the return of the items, which they said have “irreplaceable sentimental and educational value for the family and legacy of Tom Petty.”
“As a precaution and in respectful deference to the family, RR Auction is withdrawing all of the lots and securing them until this matter is properly resolved,” the auction house’s attorney, Mark Zaid, wrote Thursday in a statement to The Times.
Even so, Zaid told The Times that the rock icon’s family has yet to provide any evidence of theft or proof that the property rightfully belongs to the “Free Fallin‘” singer‘s estate.
As the dispute continues, is there any merit to the Petty family’s claim?
What are the accusations?
Petty’s family claimed that property listed in the auction — which includes jackets, hats, vests, boots, shirts, shoes and autographed items — had been “kept in the Petty family’s secure storage,” according to a statement released Wednesday. Petty died in October 2017 at age 66.
To back the claims, the estate said it has “prior knowledge, staff observations and documentation.” Representatives for the family did not immediately respond to The Times’ requests for specific evidence. It was unclear whether the family reported the alleged theft to authorities.
Petty’s family had encouraged fans not to participate in the auction. They alleged the auction house was “in complete denial” of the accusations and had declined requests to disclose certain details of how they acquired the items.
“They will not disclose the consignor who has provided these items or how they were acquired,” Petty’s family said. “But they are clearly stolen, there is no other word for it.”
A conference call between the family and the auction house and its legal team was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
What items are in the auction?
The “Marvels of Modern Music” auction formally opens June 22 and includes records and posters autographed by some of rock’s and pop music’s biggest names: Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Michael Jackson and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, plus bands Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.
Yet Petty’s archive was perhaps the most intimate and extensive in the collection. Among the listed items were Petty’s jackets, T-shirts, sweaters, boots, sneakers, scarves, hats and even duffle bags. The auction house said the items are from Petty’s former home in Encino, which was owned by his first wife, Jane Benyo Petty, after the pair divorced in 1996.
Due to foreclosure in 2015, ownership of the house was transferred to JPMorgan Chase, which ultimately discarded Petty’s items. However, the auction house said a consignor had purchased the discarded items in February. They were then offered to RR Auction for the sale.
Even after the legal threat, the Boston-based auction house had accepted bids for the items starting Wednesday, but later withdrew them Thursday afternoon.
Prior to being pulled from the sale, a black-and-white striped satin jacket from 1977 had the highest bid of more than $5,700. RR Auction said Petty wore the jacket for the cover of the “Listen to Her Heart” single released in the United Kingdom. One of Petty’s western-style hats had a bid of $1,600, while a pair of Zodiac boots was going for $1,700.
What does the auction house say?
Zaid told The Times that the Petty family first reached out to the auction house on Saturday with their concerns. He said the talks were amicable over the next several days, until the sudden threat of legal action.
“It came as a total surprise and was completely contrary to the friendly and professional conversations that had been initiated between the parties,” Zaid wrote in an email. During talks earlier in the week, he said, a representative for the family had even offered to buy some of the items as a possible resolution.
“The unnecessary defamatory and misleading threats of litigation have only caused harm to discussions that were literally just starting,” he continued.
Zaid said the auction house never received any evidence of ownership or theft, or any indication that a police report had been filed regarding allegedly stolen property. Talks, he said, were still in the preliminary stages.
Zaid said he has represented RR Auction in previous cases where it was accused of theft and has “never failed to resolve a situation amicably.”
While the auction house removed the items from auction, their fate is ultimately up to the consignor who allegedly purchased the items in February, Zaid said.