Auto auction company heading to N.C.

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 28, 2003

An automobile auction owner, convicted on federal extortion charges in 2001 while attempting to expand his business into Suffolk, will be moving to North Carolina.

Earlier this week, Currituck County, N.C., officials announced that Tidewater Auto Auction, now located on Military Highway in Chesapeake, would be expanding onto a 100-acre site near Moyock, N.C. The company is owned by Michael D. Hockett, who in July 2001 pleaded guilty in Norfolk Federal Court to charges of conspiring to commit extortion.

Hockett and two accomplices were arrested in April 2001 after attempting to blackmail Suffolk Mayor E. Dana Dickens III with compromising photographs. Hockett needed Dickens’ support in order to have enough votes to win the Suffolk City Council’s approval of rezoning and conditional-use permit request necessary before the business could relocate to a site on U.S. 17.

Email newsletter signup

Hockett’s two accomplices, Matthew G. Peelish and Richard J. Burry, were also convicted in the incident.

According to court records, Hockett was the point man in the extortion scheme that sent an exotic dancer to Dickens’ insurance office on Bridge Road on the pretext of buying insurance in early April 2001. The provocatively dressed woman made inappropriate advances on Dickens – who threw her out of his office – while Peelish and Burry hid outside taking photographs.

According to records, the two men went to Dickens’ office the next night, presented him with photographs and threatened to make them public unless he supported Hockett’s proposed project.

The Suffolk City Council, which had been divided on its support for the business, voted unanimously against the proposal.

Attempts to reach Currituck County officials for comments on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Dickens declined to comment.

Tidewater Auto Auction would mean a financial boom for Currituck County. The company would be building a 45,000-square-foot building and bringing up to 300 jobs, making it the largest private employer in the county. The county’s second-largest employer has 20 workers.

Company officials said the new facility, which they plan to open by the end of the year, anticipate having about 500 employees on its payroll within two years.