The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced earlier this week that a group of Mississippi real estate investors plead guilty for their roles in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions.
Foreclosure auction bid rigging is a form of fraud that takes place at a public auction in which a group of conspirators colludes with one another as bidders on properties. The goal is to restrain competition at the auction by rigging bids to obtain selected properties.
According to court documents, Kevin Moore, Chad Nichols, and Terry Tolar conspired to rig bids from approximately January 12, 2012, through at least April 19, 2017. The defendants acted as a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in the Southern District of Mississippi.
The Department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracy was to suppress and restrain competition in order to obtain selected real estate offered at public foreclosure auctions at non-competitive prices. The defendants made and received payoffs in exchange for their agreement not to bid.
Foreclosure bid rigging is a violation of the Sherman Act which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. The maximum fine for a Sherman Act charge may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime if either amount is greater than the statutory maximum fine.
Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division had said:
“Today’s guilty pleas send a strong signal that the Division will prosecute and hold accountable those who conspire to corrupt the competitive process and harm the American consumer. We extend our thanks to our law enforcement partners, with whom we will continue to investigate bid-rigging crimes in Mississippi—and throughout the United States.”
“Individuals who harm homeowners and defraud companies by cheating our foreclosure system to enrich themselves will face swift and certain criminal prosecution in Mississippi,” said United States Attorney D. Michael Hurst, Jr. for the Southern District of Mississippi. “I applaud the FBI and the Antitrust Division for their tenacity and perseverance in pursuing these criminal actions and shutting this illegal scheme down.”
“Violations of the Sherman Act not only impact America’s financial institutions and distressed homeowners but also damage our free market society as a whole,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze of the FBI in Mississippi. “We hope that others participating in this type of corruption understand that the FBI and Department of Justice will continue to protect Americans from price fixing and bid rigging that harm our economy.”