Veteran antiques auctioneer charged with bid rigging

Stephen J. Bennett. Portsmouth (N.H.) Police photo.

Stephen J. Bennett. Portsmouth (N.H.) Police photo.

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP and ACNI) – A veteran New Hampshire antique auctioneer is facing charges he rigged the bidding for a nautical painting and then assaulted and imprisoned the painting’s owner who had asked for payment.

The Portsmouth Herald says 52-year-old Stephen J. Bennett of Portsmouth turned himself in to police after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He is charged with misdemeanor counts of collusive bidding, conspiracy, simple assault and false imprisonment.

Police say Bennett told the owner of the painting he contracted to sell in December that it did not sell and that a high bid at the auction was offered by someone working with Bennett in an attempt to drive up the price.

Police say the assault occurred after the owner told Bennett he had actually been present at the auction, held at the Frank Jones Center in Portsmouth, and that he saw the painting sell.

The person who offered the high bid, Harold French, 52, of Warner, N.H., has been charged with collusive bidding. reported in its April 7, 2010 edition that a message was posted on Bennett’s Web site stating: “After 14-years in downtown Portsmouth, Stephen Bennett & Bennett Auctions are closing the Court Street office. This is due to Mr. Bennett having recently been diagnosed with stage-3 colon cancer. The good news is that the prognosis for a full recovery is 85%. It is however, a long recovery period following major surgery.’

“I would like to say thank you to all the wonderful people who have crossed our paths over the past 14-years,” Bennett is quoted on the site. “Many of you will be friends for life. I am overwhelmed by the support that I have received since announcing my diagnosis. Thank you! – Steve.”

Both Bennett and French were released on personal recognizance bail. Their arraignment is set for May 10 in Portsmouth District Court.

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Information from: Portsmouth Herald, Auction Central News also contributed to this report.

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 Harold French. Portsmouth (N.H.) Police photo.

Harold French. Portsmouth (N.H.) Police photo.