A 40-foot sculpture in rural Maryland of three New York City firefighters raising the U.S. flag at ground zero is being offered on eBay, but there's a catch: You can't take it home.
Bidding on the towering tribute to heroes of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will start Wednesday and end May 22, said Pat Huddleston, a Marietta, Ga., attorney who is the court-appointed receiver in an investment fraud case involving the sculpture. The auction will start at $500,000, he said.
Huddleston said proceeds from the Internet auction will benefit defrauded investors. The buyer will be recognized on a plaque as having donated the statue to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, a congressionally chartered nonprofit in Emmitsburg that memorializes fire heroes and offers counseling and scholarships to their families.
"It's a disgrace that such a symbolic memorial, which represents the best of America, is caught in the middle of a corporate scandal," Huddleston said. "We are hoping to bring honor back to the memorial by rededicating it, but first we need a willing donor who would like to become the new benefactor."
Huddleston turned to eBay after trying for more than two years to sell the bronze-and-steel statue for at least $425,000. The highest offer he got was $10,000. Sculptor Stanley J. Watts of Kearns, Utah, valued the piece in 2006 at $4.8 million.
Huddleston speculated that the financial meltdown deterred would-be buyers, and that some balked because the money wouldn't aid the Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Huddleston said he pitched the piece to corporations and even tried contacting producers of the firefighter-themed FX television series "Rescue Me."
The work was dedicated in 2007 at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Park on the grounds of the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, about 70 miles north of Washington. It must stay there under Watts' agreement with the foundation.
The piece was commissioned by Coadum Advisors Inc., which the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in 2008 fraudulently raised $30 million from more than 150 investors in a Ponzi scheme — illegally using money from new investors to pay earlier ones. The SEC says Coadum paid Watts $300,000 to sculpt the piece and then donated it to the Fallen Firefighters as a tax dodge.
In January, a federal judge in Atlanta ordered Coadum principals James A. Jeffery and Thomas A. Repke to pay restitution and fines totaling $8.2 million. They didn't acknowledge guilt in their settlement deal.
Fallen Firefighters Executive Director Ronald J. Siarnicki wondered if anyone will bid. He said all the foundation's corporate backers have refused to contribute dollars that would benefit defrauded investors, not fire heroes' families.
"It's unfortunate we got stuck in this project to begin with," Siarnicki said. "It started with the best of intentions and unfortunately someone decided they could make some money off of it."
Watts, who wasn't part of the alleged fraud, said he just wants the statue to stay in Emmitsburg, where the foundation holds an annual memorial service.
He said he created the piece, titled, "To Lift a Nation," to honor the 343 New York Fire Department workers who died trying to rescue victims of the terrorist attack.
"I've done my job, and my job was to memorialize those men who answered the call and ran up the stairs," he said.
On the Net:
National Fallen Firefighters Foundation: http://www.firehero.org