An extraordinary collection of crystals and minerals alleged to have been illegally moved from Sedona to Phoenix last year has returned to Seattle following a lawsuit settlement.
Gary Midzor, the man who bought the collection once appraised at $25 million for $1 as part of a real estate deal, now wants the public to know he's not a shady character, as the lawsuit alleged -- and that the guy who sued him agrees.
We weren't able to fully confirm Midzor's story because we couldn't reach Richard Berger, the Washington man who accused Midzor and others of fraud and breach of contract. But we did reach Berger's Phoenix lawyer, Phil Fleming, who confirmed that a settlement in the case has been reached "that's acceptable to both parties."
Actually, though, the legal maneuvering over this multi-million-dollar pile of rocks may still have a ways to go.
Midzor's a Paradise Valley resident and the owner of a local company called International Auto Brokers, which, despite the name, buys and owns corporate jets. This dude is not just scraping by: In 2009, when two people working on behalf of Berger asked Midzor to come up with $1.25 million in 24 hours for a loan to buy some property, Midzor found the cash for them.
He didn't know Brian Myers and Tina Choate, who live in Arizona, but they'd been referred to him. They wanted the five-acre property in Sedona for a planned museum, they told him. Because they claimed to be investors in a lucrative gold mine, Midzor says he believed the couple when they told him they would pay him back $1.5 million within 30 days, netting Midzor a cool $250,000.
When Midzor asked them if they had collateral, he says they replied that they'd cover the loan with the land itself -- and the collection of crystals, fossils, and concretions supposedly worth $25 million. Midzor says he agreed -- but only on the condition that he'd actually own the collection. Choate and Myers showed him a power-of-attorney letter that gave them the right to do what they pleased with Berger's collection, he says.
Then the couple sold the collection to Midzor for $1. Under the contract terms, Midzor would turn over both the collection and the land to the couple once they paid him the $1.5 million.
"I took a little bit of a crap shoot," Midzor says.
As we mentioned in the blog post we wrote about this case last year, Berger's lawsuit targets Choate and Myers, too. Berger claims that the couple had been stringing him along for years, saying they'd find a buyer who would pay more than $12 million for the stuff. They weren't authorized to make a deal like the one with Midzor without his knowledge, Berger's lawsuit says. Nor was the collection supposed to be moved from Sedona, where it had been taken in 2009 following floods in Washington.
The deal became a lot more complicated after the 30 days passed and Choate and Myers couldn't cough up the cash to repay Midzor's loan. Midzor had the collection packed up and transported to a Phoenix warehouse in six semi-trucks. (Midzor denies he misrepresented himself to the warehouse owner, as the lawsuit alleges.)
When Berger found out his collection had been relocated, he sued.
By October of last year, the settlement was hashed out. Midzor says the terms force Berger to sell part or all of the collection -- which, in turns out, was only worth about $2 million -- to pay Midzor back $1.5 million, less the $380,000 Midzor got by selling the land.
Midzor also agreed to help Berger market and sell the pieces. He spent $40,000 transporting much of the collection to Tucson earlier this year for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Less than 3 percent of the collection was sold, raising about $300,000.
One piece of petrified wood seven feet in diameter went for $125,000 alone. Berger could have probably sold more, Midzor says, but he refused numerous lowball offers on various pieces.
"I decided this wasn't doing anyone any good," Midzor says. When Berger begged him to let the rocks go back to Seattle, Midzor relented, he says.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The collection now resides in a Seattle warehouse. Berger has until the end of this month to find a buyer for the collection, Midzor says, or the pieces will have to be liquidated in an auction.
However, Berger's attorney, Fleming, tells New Times he'd be "cautious" about reporting that an auction will happen anytime soon. We'll follow up on this interesting yarn in a few weeks; Midzor says he'll let us know when the auction is. Previous pieces from Berger's collection have ended up in the hands of celebrities.
One sandstone concretion of Berger's is on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., according to a 2006 newsletter from the Panorama Gem and Mineral Club (where we obtained the pictures that accompany this post).
It's too bad Midzor or Berger couldn't have let the public in for a sneak peek while these spectacular rocks were in town -- they could have made at least a few bucks in admission charges.