Seized food auctioned off outside courthouse

Saturday morning’s Judicial Administration auction in the courthouse parking lot, disposing of a shipping container full of dry and frozen foods, started a little late, but the attending bailiffs anticipated a resounding success.

Lest anyone imagine the Honorable Chief Justice or the venerable Judges of the Grand Court mounting the dais to retail cases of frozen chicken to bargain-hunters, Josen Ebanks and his fellow bailiffs were on hand to conduct the sales, seeking to recover “a couple of thousand dollars.”

“Me and the other bailiffs will be the auctioneers,” Mr. Ebanks said, as the event opened at 9 a.m., a little behind schedule as the courthouse crew “had some difficulties this morning with the generators.”

The generators, of course, were crucial to the operation, which was to put out to public auction a container of food seized by the courts “sometime in the first quarter, maybe as late as May,” Mr. Ebanks said, recalling the short history of the affair.

A small Thursday-morning classified newspaper advertisement listed the items for sale, insisting that “everything must go!”: “Frozen items sold ‘as is’; young chicken thighs (boneless and skinless) 40lb box, pizza crust, chicken wings (party size) 40lb box, toufayan wraps, mixed vegetables, frozen tilapia, Carolina pork ribs.”

“Well, sometimes we have to seize goods and then hold an auction,” said Court Administrator Kevin McCormac. He acknowledged that foodstuffs were a little unusual, the more commonplace being “furniture, clothing, electrical items,” a roster of household and industrial miscellany.

But Saturday’s efforts to dispose of frozen and dry food were not unprecedented: “You don’t expect, really, to have more than one or two auctions per year; it depends on court proceedings and schedules, but this is the second [food] auction,” he said.

The first was earlier this year, nearer the time of the original seizure of the container.

“We sold part, but not all” of the merchandise, he said.

The seizure came in the wake of dispute in which a U.S. food importer shipped a container to a Cayman Islands wholesaler. Neither Mr. McCormac nor Mr. Ebanks would name the companies, but both agreed it was the local business “who had not paid a supplier,” the court administrator said.

“These things are usually over non-payment,” Mr. Ebanks agreed. He declined to be any more precise about the sum.

While it was difficult to predict who might be interested in the sale, Mr. McCormac said, he expected “a very variable group, a typically full mix of people using it for domestic consumption and those selling commercially.

“Restaurants are a little cautious, understandably, if selling it on to other people.”

While he was reluctant to say what the Judicial Administration might do with the revenues, indications are they will help pay off the U.S. supplier. “Our obligation is to conduct the auction for the highest bidder,” Mr. McCormac said. “There is no reserve on any of the items so we are sure they’ll sell.”

The government, however, will recoup its expenses: “The bailiff’s office gets a portion of the funds, for handling, advertising and our efforts,” Mr. Ebanks said.

Pricing, he said, was based on average wholesale costs for each category of merchandise. “We have, let’s say, a case of frozen white-meat chicken. It sells for, let’s say, $20 at Progressive Distributors. We will sell it, then, for $20. We can’t really go much lower or higher than that.”

Both agreed that auctioning this particular merchandise presented unique problems – from ensuring safety to guaranteeing freshness and even determining fair pricing.

“The frozen food has been in a refrigerated container, and there has to be refrigeration on-site. The food is taken straight out of the freezer,” Mr. McCormac said. He quickly countered any notions that the courthouse might have an enormous freezer on its premises awaiting the auction.

“We are using a container at the port,” he said, pointing out that the quantities involved were “quite significant, more than you would want to keep in your home.” Any foodstuffs left unsold, Mr. Ebanks said, would be addressed in the coming days, if quickly: “We’ll have to make that decision afterwards. We haven’t answered the question yet, but we’ll sit down and decide.”