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“Disgruntled worker” at auction house, not water district, may be responsible

Reprinted with permission from J.W. August, Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego Online News Association

Photo:  screenshot of auction site with Hitler photo.

February 23, 2022 (Otay Mesa) - Adolph Hitler’s image remains widely recognized 77 years after his suicide. It still evokes strong emotions recalling the cruelty of the dictator and the Nazis’ evil ambitions.

So it is surprising to see a photo of Hitler in a picture frame being offered for sale on an online auction site offering local government surplus. It was posted on a site advertising the Otay Water District’s “Surplus & Industrial Tools and Equipment.”

The Hitler photograph was on page eight of the site run by Cal Auctions on behalf of the water district. It appeared on the website for a number of days judging from the social media comments about the photo. 
Shown next to the Hitler image was a framed, autographed photo of  the late comedian Danny Thomas, a sharp contrast to Hitler. Thomas was responsible for founding St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a longtime leader in childhood leukemia research.
How did Hitler’s photograph end up alongside office chairs, plumbing supplies and machine tools for auction?
Tenille Otero, who is designated to speak for the water district, said the agency had seen the auction photo described on Facebook postings, and “we were concerned about this,” emphasizing that it never owned the Hitler photo.
The way the auction page appeared online, one might assume all items for sale were from the water district. However, they are not, she said.
“We were only offering the first five items on the auction website,” which are four F-150 pickup trucks and work tools.  All the other items were included under the same Otay Water District banner but had nothing to do with the district. She said the agency will be reviewing how it conducts auctions in the future.
Jason Hanks, president of Cal Auctions, whose website posted the Otay Water district items for sale, was candid when talking about the erroneous posting. He thanked the Times of San Diego for calling attention to the posting, saying  Otay Water had no responsibility for what happened. 
He is still investigating how the photo and numerous other items were lumped together on the auction site.  He said he suspects a “disgruntled employee” at the auction house may be responsible for posting the item.
The Hitler and Danny Thomas photographs were removed late Tuesday afternoon from the website.
San Diego journalist Brooke Binkowski said the use of the photograph “is a chilling reminder that San Diego remains an active hub for the global far right.”  She is a veteran reporter active in tracking and reporting on hate groups, including neo-Nazis both locally and nationally.  She’s hoping for a thorough investigation.
“We’ve dealt with racism and antisemitism directed at our communities for far too long,” she said. “It’s time for some accountability.”

J.W. August is an award-winning journalist and freelance producer who has served as investigative producer for NBC 7 San Diego and as managing editor and senior investigative producer at ABC 10 San Diego. His in-depth investigations have included a wide range of topics such as  rising seas, hate groups, nuclear fuel storage, stem cell clinic claims, dolphin deaths, and massage parlors as fronts for organized crime.

His 40-year career includes many honors, notably 35 Emmy awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the National Press Club award for consumer reporting, the Freedom Foundation award for coverage of hate groups along the border, the National Society of Professional Journalists’ Sunshine Award for fostering open government in San Diego, and the Investigative Reporters and Editors award for outstanding investigative reporting on illegal waste dumping.

August is past president of the Society of Professional Journalist’ San Diego Chapter , as well as past president of Californians Aware, a public interest group devoted to helping the press and public hold public officials accountable for their actions. He is also an adjunct professor at Point Loma Nazarene University, teaching investigative skills and long-form storytelling to aspiring future journalists.


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