Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Uncle Sam's Sell-Off: From Ferraris to Cottonelle

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Uncle Sam's Sell-Off: From Ferraris to Cottonelle

Article excerpt

Every few weeks, Uncle Sam cleans out his closet. He sorts through the pickup trucks, polishes the seized African wood statuary, and hangs out the sequined cotton separates from India that didn't meet the import quota.

Then he holds a giant tent sale.

And you're invited.

"I've been to government auctions from here to California," says Paul Cohen, who runs a New York-based sportswear company. "You never know what you can find," he says while ambling past display cases of Barbie dolls and faux leopard go-go boots at a recent auction preview here.

Indeed, nearly every day of the year, some federal, state, or local government is auctioning off goods it has seized or bought and no longer needs. These sales are good hunting grounds for the sharp- eyed consumer willing to sort through the mishmash of products.

This particular Treasury Department auction, held every few months some 25 miles southwest of New York City, offers one of the richest and most diverse veins of government goods. At the preview held last month in a cavernous government warehouse, would-be buyers squinted at boxes of Lo-Han-Kuo (a Chinese powdered beverage), considered the possibilities of 1,700 cartons of frozen Venezuelan cassava (FDA- approved), and eyed the toilet paper.

Yes, toilet paper.

"We usually buy directly from the manufacturer," says Garry Lytle, retail operations supervisor of a North Carolina discount chain.

But the lure of Lot #288 - some 38,000 rolls of Cottonelle - proved too great to pass up.

For individuals, the auction's cars and trucks are always big draws.

At this preview, Joseph Roy looked over a 1995 Toyota Land Cruiser and a white Land Rover from the Secret Service. Everyone ogled the red 1984 Ferrari convertible, seized by the Internal Revenue Service.

But the Ferrari illustrates one challenge of these auctions. The government doesn't guarantee the condition of its goods. "If we know of something {wrong}, we'll put it out there for everyone to know about it," says Tim Minoughan, northeast sales manager for LLA Marketing Group, which handles the Edison auctions for the Treasury.

The Ferrari sports a sign in the windshield: "Vehicle starts but does not continue to run. …

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