From the U.S. Department of Justice
- Two financial investors who purchased municipal tax liens at auctions in New Jersey pleaded guilty [February 23] for conspiring to rig bids for the sale of tax liens auctioned by municipalities throughout the state, the Department of Justice announced.
- A felony charge was filed [February 23] in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark, N.J., against Robert W. Stein of Huntington Valley, Pa., and David M. Farber of Cherry Hill, N.J. Under the plea agreements, which are subject to court approval, Stein and Farber have both agreed to cooperate with the department’s ongoing investigation.(1)
- According to the felony charge against Stein, from as early as 1998 until approximately spring 2009, Stein participated in a conspiracy to rig bids at auctions for the sale of municipal tax liens in New Jersey by agreeing to allocate among certain bidders on which liens to bid.
- According to the felony charge against Farber, from as early as the beginning of 2005 through approximately February 2009, Farber also participated in a conspiracy to rig bids at auctions for the sale of municipal tax liens in New Jersey. The department said that both Stein and Farber proceeded to submit bids in accordance with their agreements and purchased tax liens at collusive and non-competitive interest rates.(2)
- The department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and restrain competition to obtain selected municipal tax liens offered at public auctions at non-competitive interest rates.
- Each violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. The maximum fine for a Sherman Act violation 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.
- Today’s pleas are the result of an ongoing investigation into bid rigging or fraud related to municipal tax lien auctions.(3) On Aug. 24, 2011, Isadore H. May, Richard J. Pisciotta Jr. and William A. Collins each pleaded guilty to one count of bid rigging in connection with their participation in a conspiracy to allocate liens at New Jersey municipal tax lien auctions.
For the U.S. Justice Department press release, see Two Financial Investors Plead Guilty to Bid Rigging at Municipal Tax Lien Auctions in New Jersey.
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.
(1) "When a conspiracy is exposed by an arrest or execution of search warrants, soon-to-be defendants know that the first one to "belly up" and tell what he knows receives the best deal. The pressure is to bargain and bargain early, even if an indictment has not been filed." United States v. Moody, 206 F.3d 609, 617 (6th Cir. 2000) (Wiseman, J., concurring) (referring to the not-uncommon 'race to the prosecutor's office' that breaks out among participants in an 'about-to-fall-apart' criminal conspiracy).
(2) The DOJ press release describes the nature of the bidding process on municipal tax liens in New Jersey:
- When the owner of real property fails to pay taxes on that property, the municipality in which the property is located may attach a lien for the amount of the unpaid taxes. If the taxes remain unpaid after a waiting period, the lien may be sold at auction. State law requires that investors bid on the interest rate delinquent homeowners will pay upon redemption.
By law, the bid opens at 18 percent interest and, through a competitive bidding process, can be driven down to zero percent. If a lien remains unpaid after a certain period of time, the investor who purchased the lien may begin foreclosure proceedings against the property to which the lien is attached.
According to the court documents, Stein conspired with others not to bid against one another at municipal tax lien auctions in New Jersey. Farber also agreed not bid against certain bidders at tax lien auctions. Because the conspiracies permitted the conspirators to purchase tax liens with limited competition, each conspirator was able to obtain liens which earned a higher interest rate.
Property owners were therefore made to pay higher interest on their tax debts than they would have paid had their liens been purchased in open and honest competition.
(3) The ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s New York Field Office and the FBI’s Atlantic City, N.J., office. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to municipal tax lien auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s New York Field Office at 212-335-8000, visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm or contact the Atlantic City Resident Agency of the FBI at 609-677-6400.