Oregon police recover goods linked to fugitive auctioneer

PORTLAND, Ore. – Following a nearly year-long investigation, police in Oregon and Illinois have recovered thousands of dollars in missing merchandise that was consigned to disgraced auctioneer Robert W. Mathisen.

The recently discovered haul includes dozens of misappropriated consignments that Oregon residents had entrusted to Mathisen’s Professional Auction Group of Portland. The items range from antiques, jewelry and family heirlooms to the contents of entire homes.

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Mathisen, investigators say, failed to pay consignors after selling their property, and cherry-picked the more-valuable items for himself. In October 2004, victims were shocked to find Mathisen’s 92nd Avenue business premises cleared out and the auctioneer nowhere to be found.

Mathisen, 60, is sought on multiple felony charges by Portland police and remains at large. Detectives estimate his bilked consignors – more than two dozen in all – have lost possessions cumulatively valued at $1.7 million, with less than 5 percent recovered thus far.

Portland police recently recovered some of the missing merchandise in Chicago after an auction gallery in that city unwittingly accepted a consignment of stolen merchandise from Mathisen. The case broke in late March when one of Mathisen’s sons, Darryl, told police he thought he might know the whereabouts of some of the missing goods. The son cooperated with police, and subsequently assisted Portland officials with the recovery. Last month, authorities reunited consignors with their missing property at a Portland-area police station.

Victims credit Officers Michele Michaels and Sheri Davis with spearheading the recovery. Michaels and Davis, patrol officers with the Portland Police Department, were moved by tales of fraud they heard from victims and didn’t accept previous investigators’ assertions that the case should be considered a civil matter. The two spent nights and weekends doing detective work, eventually discovering the location of Mathisen’s three sons and learning that one of them, Darryl, also had been victimized by his father.

“I was moved by the fact that so many of Mathisen’s victims were elderly,” said Michaels, speaking by phone to Antique Trader. “Many were planning to sell their items and use the proceeds to move to new living situations. Clearly, this affected a lot of people.”

Police believe that Robert Mathisen and his wife, Ginger, fled to the Chicago suburb of Mundelein, taking with them an unknown portion of the consignors’ goods. In March, Mathisen approached Direct Auction Galleries of Chicago to consign jewelry, furniture and other valuables as part of a so-called estate liquidation. The plan was for the items to be offered in a March 28 sale.

Direct Auction Galleries’ John R. Modica told Antique Trader: “Mathisen told us his wife had been diagnosed with cancer and had only several months to live. (He said) she had collected these things for a long time, and given the fact that she was dying, they wanted to sell the items and have a little fun with whatever time she had left.” Modica said that when investigators informed his company that the Mathisen consignment was comprised of stolen articles, his 700-lot auction instantly “turned into a 400-lot auction.” DAG personnel cooperated with Chicago Police Department detectives as well as Mundelein investigators in photo-documenting each recovered item.

After law-enforcement authorities had completed their work in Chicago, Officers Michaels and Davis traveled there to personally transport the goods back to Portland by truck. Davis, a former army truck driver, and Michaels, a former schoolteacher, completed their road trip in four days, stopping only as necessary during daylight hours and taking turns at sentry duty during overnight motel stays to ensure the truck was not broken into.

Police in Portland and Chicago continue to search for Mathisen, whose previous record includes a 1994 conviction for racketeering, for theft by deception. He spent 30 days in jail, was ordered to pay $25,000 in restitution to his victims and was given five years’ probation. He now faces far more serious charges. On Jan. 30, a Clackamas, Ore., grand jury indicted Mathisen on aggravated theft and seven counts of felon in possession of a firearm, since seven guns, one of them an antique Winchester rifle, are among the missing consignments.

Mathisen is described as a smooth talker who presents himself as a religious man or man of the cloth. Some have likened his demeanor to that of a tele-evangelist. Physically, he is 6 foot 2 inches tall and weighs 270-300 pounds. Police say the Mathisens may be traveling in a dark-colored Dodge with Wisconsin plates. Anyone with information regarding the Mathisens are urged to contact Portland police at (503) 823-0010.

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