From the U.S. Department of Justice
- Three Northern California real estate investors have agreed to plead guilty today for their roles in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced. To date, as a result of the ongoing investigation, 20 individuals have agreed to plead guilty.
- Charges were filed  in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland, Calif., against Barry Heisner of Brentwood, Calif.; Dominic Leung of Alameda, Calif.; and Hilton Wong of San Ramon, Calif.
- According to court documents, for various lengths of time between August 2008 and January 2011, Heisner, Leung and Wong conspired with others not to bid against one another at public real estate foreclosure auctions. Instead, the investors designated a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Contra Costa County.
- Heisner, Leung and Wong also were charged with conspiracies to use the mail to carry out a scheme to fraudulently acquire title to selected properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs, and to divert money to co-conspirators that would have gone to mortgage holders and others by holding second, private auctions open only to members of the conspiracy.
- The department said that the selected properties were then awarded to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids in the second, private auctions. The private auctions took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held. According to court documents, a forfeiture allegation was also included in the charges against Heisner.
- The department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and restrain competition and to conceal payoffs in order to obtain selected real estate offered at Contra Costa County public foreclosure auctions at noncompetitive prices.
- When real estate properties are sold at these auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner.
- Each violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. Each count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
- The government can also seek to forfeit the proceeds earned from participating in the conspiracy to commit mail fraud. The maximum fine for the Sherman Act charges may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victim if either amount is greater than the $1 million statutory maximum.(1)
For the U.S. Justice Department press release, see Three Northern California Real Estate Investors Agree to Plead Guilty to Bid Rigging at Public Foreclosure Auctions (Investigation Has Yielded 20 Plea Agreements to Date).
Go here for other posts & links on bid rigging at foreclosure and other real estate-related auctions.
Go here for links to more from the U.S. Justice Department on bid-rigging prosecutions, generally.
(1) According to the press release, [these] charges are the latest cases filed by the department in its ongoing investigation into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, Calif. The investigation into fraud and bid rigging at certain real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Field Office and the FBI’s San Francisco office.
Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Field Office at 415-436-6660, visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.
By the way, by agreeing to plead guilty, these defendants (at least implicitly) have acknowledged that their 'arrangement' at the foreclosure sales was not an innocent, lawful joint bidding endeavor. See Illegal Bid Rigging Racket? Or Mere Innocent 'Joint Bidding' Arrangement?