PHOENIX (CN) – A $25 million fossil collection was taken illegally to Phoenix from a Sedona warehouse and sold for $1 as part of a land deal, the owner claims in Federal Court. Richard Berger claims it took him 35 years to amass the collection that was “considered by many in the industry as the rarest and finest.”
Berger, owner of the Washington-based Museum Associates, claims that in 1995 defendants Brian Myers and Tina Choate contacted him and said “that they were interested in purchasing the collection and eventually planned to build a nonprofit museum to house the collection.”
Berger claims Myers and Choate told him they knew a financier who would help them buy the collection, “The Master Works of the Earth,” for $12 million, through an “international asset trading program” that would use the collection as collateral to generate the money to buy it.
Berger claims the Los Angeles-based auction house Bonhams & Butterfields appraised the collection at $25 million in 1998. Berger says he did not pay the $30,000 cost of the appraisal, and says he understood the “confirmation of the value of the collection at $25 million and the financier’s willingness to pay for the appraisal” as a sign of good faith.
Berger claims that Myers and Choate entered into a new purchase agreement in September 2009 that extended the termination date beyond Dec. 31, 2009, and “called for two installment payments of $6 million to be paid to Richard Berger and Museum Associates.”
In late September or early October 2009, the warehouse where the collection was stored, in Kent Valley, Wash., “was under significant and heavily publicized threat of flood due to concerns with the security of an earthen dam upstream of the valley and the region had been declared a disaster area by King County prior to the event because of its high probability,” according to the complaint.
Berger says he told Myers and Choate of the situation, and they suggested he move the collection to a warehouse in Sedona, Ariz., where it would be stored until a museum could be built to house it.
Berger claims that a month and a half after the collection was shipped to Sedona, Choate and Myers negotiated a $2 million land deal with defendants Gary Midzor and Chris Ivey of G.M. Property Development, using the fossil collection as security.
He claims they sold the entire collection to Midzor and Ivey for $1, and had it moved to a warehouse in Phoenix.
Berger claims that the collection was not to leave the Sedona warehouse without his permission. He claims that defendant Craig Ramsell, the owner of the Sedona warehouse, told him that he was notified on Feb. 16 that “six tractor trailers showed up” at the warehouse to remove 120,000 pounds of crates. Berger claims that Myers told Ramsell, falsely, that the collection’s insurer “had some problems with the security of the building and that it was necessary to remove the entire collection and transport it to a bonded warehouse in the Phoenix area.”
Berger says he “spent much of his adult life amassing this collection and pursuing plans to sell it in order for it to wind up in a museum that would keep it together and display it publicly.”
Berger says that when found that his collection had been removed without his permission, he called Myers and Choate, who admitted they had sold it, “but astoundingly said they were trying to use the collection to make a quick turnaround on some land,” and then pay him with money from the land sale.
Since then, Berger says, he has received calls from dealers who claim Midzor and Ivey had tried to sell the collection for $2 million.
Berger and Museum Associates seek damages for fraud, negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. They are represented by Phil Flemming and Caroline Pilch with Yen, Pilch, Komadina and Flemming.