By Mike Colpitts
Eight real estate investors have pleaded guilty for their roles in a criminal conspiracy at real estate foreclosure auctions. The charges against the investors carry up to 30 years in U.S. federal prison and $1-million in fines.
The investors agreed to enter the guilty pleas after a federal investigation led to their arrests to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions in California, according to the Department of Justice.
Charges were filed against Gary Anderson of Saratoga, California; Patrick Campion of San Francisco; James Doherty of Hillsborough; Keith Goodman of San Francisco; Troy Kent of San Mateo; Craig Lipton of San Francisco; Henry Pessah of Burlingame and Laith Salma of San Francisco.
According to a federal indictment, felony charges were filed against the investors for taking part in a conspiracy to rig bids by agreeing to refrain from bidding against each other at auctions in San Francisco and on the affluent San Francisco Peninsula in the San Mateo area.
“The collusion taking place at these auctions allowed the conspirators to line their pockets with funds that otherwise would have gone to lenders and, at times, financially distressed homeowners,” said Sharis Pozen, Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “The investigation into collusion at these foreclosure auction markets is ongoing, and the Antitrust Division will continue to pursue the perpetrators of these fraudulent schemes until they are brought to justice.”
The FBI said that the purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress competition and to conceal payoffs in order to obtain real estate at the lowest prices possible. When real estate is sold at auction, proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debts attached to the property.
The eight real estate investors conspired with others not to bid against one another at the auctions, participating in a conspiracy for various periods between November 2008 and January 2011, according to federal prosecutors.
The investors were also charged with conspiracy to use the U.S. mail to carry out a fraudulent scheme. Each violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Each count of conspiracy to commit U.S. mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
The charges are the latest cases filed by the Department of Justice in its investigation into bid rigging at public real estate foreclosure auctions in the San Francisco Bay Area. A total of 18 individuals have agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges related to the investigation.