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Chicago wholesaler closes its doors

by Tim Linden | January 16, 2011
Chicago wholesaler Auster Acquisitions LLC, located on the Chicago International Produce Market, has apparently closed its doors in mid-January amid a number of lawsuits claiming non-payment for produce deliveries.

The firm did not return repeated telephone calls from The Produce News requesting comment.

Attorney Mark Amendola of Martyn & Associates in Cleveland, who is representing C.H. Robinson Worldwide, filed a lawsuit Friday, Jan. 7, for non- payment of produce supplies, and amended it on Monday, Jan. 10, asking for both a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to prevent the firm from doing business without court supervision.

A California law firm, Rynn & Janowski, representing a number of other distributors, filed a motion to intervene in that case, and a separate lawsuit, on behalf of fellow Chicago wholesaler Jack Tuchten Wholesale Produce Inc., was also filed by Wednesday, Jan. 12.

Auster Acquisitions was open for business on Friday, Jan. 7 but did not open its doors on Monday, Jan. 10, or the following few days. Speculation was that the company would not resume operations.

In fact, representatives of the firm had informed some of their creditors in recent weeks that it would be closing down the operation.

Jason Read of Rynn & Janowski said the lawsuit filings indicate a PACA Trust produce debt near $2 million and a total debt in excess of $3 million. He said that a hearing was scheduled on Mr. Amendola's TRO motion the following day (Jan. 13) and all indications were that it would be granted. He said that the next course of action would be to determine the firm’s assets and liabilities.

While it was too soon to know for sure, Mr. Read said that there are indications that the firm’s accounts receivables and the personal wealth of the principals could well be sufficient to cover all the PACA Trust debts.

In fact, one of the principal owners, Tom Bastounes, who is the company’s chief executive officer, is also well known in the entertainment industry as a movie producer, actor and founder of South Water Pictures. The company’s most recent movie project is "The Merry Gentleman" starring Michael Keaton, which was released in 2009.

Auster Acquisitions has a long history, having been founded in 1937 by brothers Clark and Mike Auster on Chicago’s South Water Market. It was called The Auster Co. and remained in family hands until Mr. Bastounes bought it a half-dozen years ago.