Jay Leno sued for buying Duesenberg

Here’s the story from Bloomberg. We’re going to have our staff attorney give a full report and prediction…but until then, read how Leno (a guy we’ve interviewed and respect) is being sued by the estate of a Duesenberg that he bought from a company that acquired it via an auction by the garage in NYC that stored it for years.

Jay Leno Sued Over Estate Sale of Rare Duesenberg (Correct)

By Patricia Hurtado

(Corrects allegation against Leno in first paragraph.)

Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) — Talk show host Jay Leno was sued by the estate of a former Macy’s Inc. executive for buying a rare 1931 Duesenberg allegedly worth $1.7 million from a garage where the plaintiff kept it.

Leno paid $180,000 to the Manhattan garage, which allegedly claimed the now-deceased owner failed to pay his storage bill and also sold his 1930 Rolls Royce, according to a complaint filed yesterday in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Wendy Lubin, daughter of late Macy’s executive John Straus, sued Leno, 58, his company, Big Dog Productions Inc. and the Upper East Side Windsor Garage where Straus parked the cars, according to the complaint.

The estate alleged that, after Straus rejected Leno’s attempt to purchase the Duesenberg, the comedian, an antique car buff, entered into a “sham” transaction with the garage to take ownership of the car. Straus died in May at the age of 88.

“Notwithstanding the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by Straus to the garage over the years, these vehicles were purportedly auctioned off to satisfy certain relatively trivial parking bills,” Lubin and the estate said in the complaint.

Leno, host of the Tonight Show on the NBC television network, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. Helga Pollock, his spokeswoman, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Big Dog

A woman at Burbank, California-based Big Dog who refused to give her name declined to immediately comment. Calls to Windsor Garage weren’t returned. Andrew Solomon, a New York lawyer for Straus’s daughter and estate, didn’t return a call seeking comment.

The complaint included claims of unjust enrichment and “conversion” for the alleged wrongful taking of the Duesenberg. The plaintiffs seek damages of at least $1.7 million and return of the vehicle.

According to the Christie’s International Web site, an engine for a model J sold for more than $82,000. The Christie’s site called it “a massive powerhouse of engineering excellence” in its auction catalog description.

The Duesenberg Model J from 1929 “was more than just a luxury car, as Duesenberg intended it to be a sporting drive for keen drivers,” according to the Top Classic Cars Web site, http://www.topclassiccars.com. “The engine was mighty, being a straight-eight cylinder with twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder.”

The plaintiffs alleged Straus’s Duesenberg was extremely rare, describing it as “last known, original condition family owned Model J Duesenberg in existence.” Only 470 Model Js were made between 1928 and 1937 by the company founded by two German brothers, the estate said.

7,085 Miles

Straus’s car, which only had 7,085 miles, was bought from the factory by Straus’s father, Herbert Straus, in 1931. Straus later purchased it from his mother, the estate said.

According to the complaint, the Manhattan parking garage arranged sham auctions “when Straus was incapable of protecting his rights due to his deterioration from dementia.”

In 2005, the garage claimed Straus failed to pay more than $22,000 in parking bills for the cars, the estate said in the complaint. The garage allegedly sent Straus conflicting bills for the storage of the Duesenberg and cars he kept at another facility which they also owned, called the Wayne Garage, about 10 blocks away, according to the court filing.

In an alleged “ruse” to confuse Straus, Windsor Garage eventually claimed he never paid for the storage while sending him bills for the Wayne Garage and refusing his checks to pay the Windsor garage bills, the plaintiffs said.

No Attempt

The garage never made any attempt to contact Straus or any members of his family, the estate alleged in the filing.

Windsor Garage eventually seized the Duesenberg and Rolls Royce and conducted a “lien auction” in April 2005, which the estate called an “unlawful private sale” to “certain eager purchasers waiting in the wings, such as Leno,” the estate alleged in its complaint.

A company called Chapman LLC purchased the Duesenberg and the Rolls Royce the next month, although the garage continued to bill Straus for storage until December of that year, the estate said.

Chapman sold the Duesenberg to Leno and his production company, the estate said. Windsor Garage and its owners pocketed $140,000, while Straus’s account was credited $39,709 as a result of the sale, according to the complaint.

According to the estate’s filing, in a 2007 book titled “The Hemi in the Barn,” written by author Tom Cotter, Leno wrote a forward describing his purchase of a 1931, un-restored Duesenberg that he said he found in a Manhattan parking garage.

Made-Up Story

“I didn’t want to lose it,” Leno wrote, according to the complaint. “So I made up a story–no, it was an absolute lie– that the car couldn’t be removed from its third-floor home because the new elevator that had been installed several years earlier was too small to fit the car.”

The alleged ruse was meant to dissuade other buyers or spur lower bids at the auction, according to the complaint.

On his Web site, called “Jaylenosgarage,” the comedian described having several Duesenbergs in his car collection.

A woman who refused to identify herself answered the number for Chapman by saying “Garage Management Company LLC,” an entity that is also named as a defendant in the suit. She declined to comment.

NBC is owned by General Electric Co.

The case is Wendy Lubin v. Big Dog Productions, 602965/2008, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).


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