PLAINFIELD, MA - No one bid for the compound of a tax-evading couple convicted of amassing an arsenal of weapons and holding federal law enforcement officials at bay for months.
The auction of Ed and Elaine Brown's fortress-like home on 100 acres in Plainfield was held at U.S. District Court in Concord on Friday. The minimum bid was $250,000.
Elaine Brown's dental office in a prime Lebanon commercial zone also was being auctioned with a minimum bid of $507,500, but it too attracted no bidders.
Federal marshals had arranged 16 folding chairs in a courtroom at the federal courthouse in Concord. They remained empty, serving as a stark reminder of the lack of interest as Deputy Chief U.S. Marshal Brenda Mikelson went through the motions of asking for minimum bids on both properties before the auction ended two minutes later.
Prospective bidders were not allowed to tour the properties, in part because the U.S. Marshals Service raised the possibility that explosives or other booby traps could be buried on the residential property.
They also cited the hordes of Brown supporters the 2007 standoff attracted.
As the Browns kept federal marshals at bay for nine months, they welcomed a parade of anti-tax and anti-government supporters including Randy Weaver, whose wife and son were killed along with a deputy U.S. marshal in a 1992 shootout on Weaver's property in Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
The Browns were ultimately captured by undercover agents posing as pizza deliverymen.
Marshals said Friday they can hold a second auction in the future.
The court has ruled that the Browns and any heirs have no claims to the properties or any assets from their sale. If the properties ever sell, the first entities to be paid would be the municipalities of Plainfield and Lebanon, which are owed back property taxes.
Plainfield town administrator Steve Halleran said Friday the $191,300 his small town is owed represents 40 percent of the town's delinquent taxes.
Halleran said he was surprised the Lebanon property didn't sell, given its prime commercial location.
"The Plainfield property is a bit of a mongrel," he said. "It's 100 acres with no road frontage." Access to the property is through a right-of-way, town officials say, which means it can't be subdivided.
Dave McMullen, Lebanon's chief assessor, said he attended the auction with the town's attorney "hoping I could introduce myself to the winning bidder."
The standoff was sparked when marshals came to take the Browns into custody after they were convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to five years in prison. The Browns do not recognize the federal government's authority to tax its citizens.
They were convicted in 2009 of amassing weapons, explosives and booby traps and plotting to kill federal agents who came to arrest them. Ed and Elaine Brown, both in their 70s, are serving more than three decades in prison.
As of a year ago, federal agencies with explosive-detection equipment and dogs still couldn't ensure the densely wooded land was free of booby traps. But a small portion of the property around the hilltop house has been searched extensively and deemed safe.