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Controversy follows court auction of deceased builder's holdings

A court-ordered auction of 64 homes and apartment buildings in three suburbs last week sparked some confusion and controversy among bidders.

Auctioneer Cash Cunningham auctioned off a mixture of duplexes and apartment buildings in Amherst, Cheektowaga and the Town of Tonawanda last week under the direction of Erie County Surrogate's Court, as part of the effort to settle the estate of Eugene Jason, a longtime local builder.

Jason, who died in October 2007 at age 66, owned Big G Roofing, Properties Unlimited and other real estate ventures throughout Western New York.

Many of Jason's properties have been sold since his death, but in March, the court ordered three large clusters to be auctioned.

The auction, held at Cash Realty & Auctions in downtown Buffalo, was standing-room-only, with more than 100 chairs filled, including more than 60 bidders who had paid deposits, Cunningham said.

In the biggest successful offer, Nick Sinatra, a Buffalo native and new real estate investor whose family owns Sinatra's Restaurant on Kenmore Avenue, bid $1.5 million for 15 duplex homes in Amherst.

The 15 homes that Sinatra bought were part of a larger group of 22 duplex properties consisting of two-bedroom units, renting for $650 to $700 a month, and three-bedroom apartments, renting for $750 to $800 a month.

The other seven buildings went to individual bidders, with sale prices ranging from $100,000 to $110,500 and totaling $2.284 million, Cunningham said.

Emilio Passuci purchased the Sunrise Estates complex of six townhouse apartment buildings in Cheektowaga for$1.125 million. Each building has six units, for a total of 36 apartments, renting for $525 to $625 per month.

Confusion arose over the third package of properties -- 35 multifamily homes, with a total of 124 apartments, located on 19 streets in the Town of Tonawanda's Sheridan Parkside area.

The properties range from two units to seven units, with rents ranging from $450 to $550 per month.

Sinatra and developer Carl P. Paladino, chairman of Ellicott Development Co., appeared to triumph, bidding $1.32 million.

But unbeknown to the bidders, the offer fell short of a $1.54 million minimum bid that the court had set for that particular auction.

"We probably will not sell. It probably will take a little more than that to buy it," Cunningham said. Bids on the other two auctions exceeded minimums.

Still, the complexity of the auction confused and upset many other bidders, including Paladino, because the Amherst and Town of Tonawanda properties were offered both as a package and individually to maximize the proceeds for the estate.

That led to uncertainty and misunderstandings about the process, and even complaints that the auction appeared staged because of side conversations between Cunningham and Paladino.

Roger Simon, the court-appointed attorney for the estate and for temporary estate administrator Acea Mosey, rejected that contention.

"They were auctioned in open auction. Anybody was free to bid whatever they wanted to bid," said Simon, a partner with Gibson McAskill & Crosby. "I'm not aware of any backroom dealings of any kind."

Cunningham said the auction even was videotaped, to ensure the proceedings were proper. "There were no backroom deals of any kind. It was completely aboveboard," he said.

Members of the Jason family, meanwhile, are considering whether to appeal and block the auctions. The court's next hearing is July 12.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com