CCC’s: The Sherman Act is An Unconstitutional Criminal Statute (Part II)

July 19, 2017 by Robert Connolly 2 Comments

In Part 1 of this article (here), I argued that the Sherman Act was unconstitutional as a criminal statute because it is void for vagueness.  A statute that criminalizes all restraints of trade cannot be saved by the Supreme Court explaining what Congress really must have really meant. What passed constitutional muster when the Sherman Act was a misdemeanor[1] merits another look now that the statute carries a maximum jail time of 10 years in prison.

In Part II I discuss how I think the criminal element of the Sherman Act should be fixed.

 The Heir Locators Criminal Indictment May Make This Issue Topical

I want to explain why this topic has come to mind. The Antitrust Division’s heir locators investigation/prosecution garners little attention in the world of massive international cartel investigations, but an indictment in this investigation could have major implications for criminal antitrust prosecutions.[2]  In a recent development, the trial judge ruled that the criminal case should be tried under the Rule of Reason. It is possible this development will set off a chain of events that leads to the Supreme Court revisiting what is necessary for a criminal conviction under the Sherman Act.

Heir locator firms locate potential heirs to an estate from public records and agree to help with their claim in return for a contingency fee.  The amount of the contingency fee depends on factors such as the complexity of the claim, potential recovery etc.  Since the potential heirs are located from public records, they may be contacted by more than one heir locator firm.  According to the indictment, the defendants agreed to allocate customers on a “first to contact basis.”  The firm to which the customers were allocated would pay the firm that “backed off” a percentage of the contingency recovered.  The Division has obtained two guilty pleas in the investigation but defendants Kemp & Associates and its co-owner Daniel J. Mannix were indicted in August 2016 and have pled not guilty.

The indictment appears to be a straight forward customer allocation scheme—a per seviolation.  The defendants:

  • agreed, during those conversations and other communications, that when both co-conspirator companies contacted the same unsigned heir to an estate, the co-conspirator company that first contacted that heir would be allocated certain remaining heirs to that estate who had yet to sign a contract with an Heir Location Services provider;

  • agreed that the co-conspirator company to which heirs were allocated would pay to the other co-conspirator company a portion of the contingency fees ultimately collected from those allocated heirs;

If anything is a per se violation, customer allocation should earn the title.  It eliminates price competition and it can be an easier agreement to monitor/enforce than price fixing.  If you lose a customer you were supposed to get, you know it.  But, the defendants moved that the case should be tried under the rule of reason.  The briefs in the case were filed under seal so it is impossible at this point to understand the defendants’ argument and the government’s response.  Nonetheless, on June 21, 2017 U.S. District Judge David Sam heard oral argument and then granted the defendants’ motion that the case is subject to the rule of reason. He reserved judgment on the motion to dismiss “for further disposition pending the government’s further evaluation of the case.”

I predict that the Antitrust Division will not try a criminal case under the Rule of Reason.  The government will either seek an interlocutory appeal to reverse the district court’s ruling, or drop the case.  The Division is in a tough position because three defendants have already pled guilty.[3]  The Division will not lightly walk away from a prosecution where others have already taken a plea.  On the other hand, the Antitrust Division will not want a precedent that allows the defendant to raise the reasonableness of the conduct.  Defendants have argued in previous criminal cases that the restraint should be judged under a rule of reason, but the Division has had ample authority to beat that argument back.  But, what if the defendants go for the whole enchilada, and seek not just a rule of reason trial, but a complete dismissal of the charges?   It certainly would be helpful to the defendants to have a criminal case tried under the rule of reason, but it would be a home run, or antitrust Hall of Fame material to get the indictment dismissed in its entirety as unconstitutionally void for vagueness.

A Rule of Reason Criminal Case?

One reason the defendants may have moved for a rule of reason trial is that the Supreme Court has already said that this would be permissible.  In United States v. U.S. Gypsum,[4]the Supreme Court held that in a criminal prosecution under the Sherman Act that was subject to rule of reason analysis, “action undertaken with knowledge of its probable consequences and having the requisite anticompetitive effects can be a sufficient predicate for a finding of criminal liability under the antitrust laws.”[5]  That would seem to settle the question, but the Supreme Court has been rightly flexible with stare decisis in overruling numerous other “conventional wisdom” tenets in the antitrust area.  Think vertical restraints, maximum resale price maintenance and resale price maintenance as examples.[6]  Would the Supreme Court decide that a rule of reason criminal case (or a per se case) is unconstitutional.  Would an after-the-fact rule of reason determination (after a quick look?) (or full blown inquiry?) meet the “notice” standard required for a criminal statute?  But, what about the Gypsum required showing of intent of anticompetitive conduct?  Does that save the statute?  But what does that even mean?  Anticompetitive under the “consumer welfare model?”  Measured by the Chicago School?  Post Chicago School?  School of Rock?

I have a proposal to amend the elements of a Sherman Act criminal conviction that eliminates these questions/issues and is warranted in light of the 10-year maximum jail sentence.  (And not to forget, a corporation has paid a $500 million criminal fine.)

If the Restraint is Fraudulent—It’s Criminal

Every head of the Antitrust Division in recent memory has made statements such as, “price fixing, market allocation and bid rigging steal from, and commit fraud upon, American business and customers.”[7] Similarly, an Antitrust Division official has testified, “the [criminal] cases that we are charging and prosecuting are unmistakable fraud.”[8]  Simply put, the litmus test for criminality should be whether the restraint of trade also involves fraud (i.e. a per se violation).  The substantial hammer of justice –lengthy prison sentences, Red Notices, extradition, should be reserved for when a jury finds the defendant engaged in a restraint of trade that involved fraud.

Today, criminal antitrust indictments contain an element of fraud, because of [wise] prosecutorial discretion, not because of the dictates of the statute.  But, antitrust jurisprudence could have taken the path down a fraud requirement instead of veering off to a per se rule (a conclusive presumption that takes the issue of reasonableness out of the juries’ hand), and found that the criminality in the Sherman Act is confined to those agreements that have an element of fraud. Early cases interpreting what was an unreasonable restraint of trade were heading in that direction.

What we now call per se offenses were originally called fraud.  This was recognized as early as 1875 in Craft v. McConoughy,[9] a case involving a secret scheme to fix prices among four Illinois warehouses. The court stated, “To the public the four houses were held out as competing firms for business. Secretly they had conspired together.”[10]  The scheme enabled the parties “by secret and fraudulent means, to control the price of grain.”[11]  In the seminal antitrust case of United States v. Addyston Pipe,[12] the court found secret agreements to refrain from bidding to be a form of fraud: “It is well settled that an agreement between intending bidders at a public auction or a public letting not to bid against each other, and thus prevent competition, is a fraud.”[13] In McMullen v. Hoffman,[14] the Court refused to enforce a contract when one conspirator sued for his portion of the profits from a successful collusive bidding scheme. The Court explained that the agreement “tend[ed] to induce the belief that there really is competition . . . although the truth is that there is no such competition.”[15] The Court held that “the illegal character of the agreement is founded not alone upon the fact that it tends to lessen competition, but also upon the fact of the commission of a fraud by the parties in combining their interests and concealing the same.”[16] The Court distinguished a secret agreement from a known joint venture, where “[t]he public may obtain at least the benefit of the joint responsibility. . . . The public agents know then all that there is in the transaction, and can more justly estimate the motives of the bidders, and weigh the merits of the bid.”[17]  Over a century later, in response to a question as to whether antitrust crimes are crimes of moral turpitude, Antitrust Division Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer responded that “price-fixing, bid-rigging and market allocation agreements among companies that hold themselves out to the public as competitors are inherently deceptive and defraud consumers who expect the benefit of competition.”[18]

Drawing on the wisdom of early Supreme Court decisions and the recent pronouncements of the Antitrust Division, the demarcation between a restraint of trade that can subject the violator to civil penalties and one that subjects the violator to criminal penalties is whether there was an element of fraud.  The Sherman Act should reflect this, either by amendment in Congress, or by Supreme Court further interpretation of what the government is required to prove to subject the defendant to criminal penalties.   In a criminal case the government’s burden should include proving that the agreement was a restraint of trade where the agreement was actively concealed or where the defendant held him/itself out to the public as a competitor when in fact an agreement not to compete or limit competition had been reached without the knowledge of the customer.  In a previous article, I have labeled this standard Per Se Plus.[19]

How would the heir locators indictment fare under such a standard? It is hard to know for sure but the indictment suggests that customers shopped around or there would have been no need for an agreement at all.  And when customers got quotes from more than one company, the customer would reasonably assume there was competition.  And the fraud would be, as the Supreme Court said long ago, “in [the defendants] combining their interests and concealing the same.”

Conclusion

Would requiring the government to prove an element of fraud to obtain a criminal conviction make obtaining convictions more difficult?  The answer must be yes, but as a former Antitrust Division prosecutor, to convince a jury to convict you must argue that the crime wasn’t an “unreasonable restraint of trade” whatever the heck that is—but it was fraud by the lying cheating defendants.  There are benefits to the Antitrust Division that would flow from having to prove fraud, but that’s for another post. Here, I’ll end with this.  The crime should fit the punishment; and with punishment of up to ten years in prison for an individual and hundreds of millions of dollars for a corporation, the Sherman Act needs to be amended to include an element of fraud for a criminal conviction because it is currently unconstitutional.

Thanks for reading.

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[1] When the per se rule was announced in United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S 150 (1940). a jail sentence was virtually a non-existent possibility. The maximum sentence imposed on any of the convicted individual defendants in Socony Vacuum was a fine of $1000. See Daniel A. Crane, The Story of United States v. Socony Vacuum: Hot Oil and Antitrust in the Two New Deals, in ANTITRUST STORIES 107 (Eleanor M. Fox & Daniel A. Crane eds., 2007).

[2]  U.S. v. Kemp & Associates, Inc. and Daniel J. Mannix, Case: 2:16-cr-00403, (D. Utah 2016) (DS), available at  https://www.justice.gov/atr/file/887761/download.

[3]  Richard Blake agreed to plead guilty in January 2016 as part of a proposed plea agreement between the Antitrust Division and Blake.  His company was not charged, most likely because it had received leniency. California-based Brandenburger & Davis and its president Bradley Davis agreed to plead guilty in December 2015.

[4]  438 U.S. 422 (1978).

[5]  Gypsum, 438 U.S. at 444. fn 21.

[6] The Supreme Court stated in Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U.S. 877, 899 (2007).   “Stare decisis is not as significant in this case, however, because the issue before us is the scope of the Sherman Act,” which the Court has treated as a common-law statute.  The Court has been receptive to reviewing the per se rule in light of “new circumstances and new wisdom.”  The severe loss of personal liberty and other consequences now at stake in a Sherman Act criminal case is a new circumstance that warrants an evolution in the application of the per se rule to criminal antitrust cases so that the test for liability will better match the evolution of the law on consequences

[7] Anne K. Bingaman, Assistant Att’y Gen., Antitrust Div., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, The Clinton Administration: Trends in Criminal Antitrust Enforcement, Remarks Before the Corporate Counsel Inst. (Nov. 30, 1995), available at http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/speeches/0471.htm.

[8] Scott D. Hammond, Deputy Assistant Att’y Gen., Antitrust Div., U.S. Dep’t. of Justice, Transcript of Testimony Before the United States Sentencing Commission Concerning Proposed 2005 Amendments to Section 2R1.1 at 3 (Apr. 12, 2005), available at http://www.justice.gov/atr/public testimony/209071.pdf.

[9] 79 Ill. 346 (1875).

[10] Id. at 348.

[11] Id. at 349.

[12] 85 F. 271 (6th Cir. 1898).

[13] Id. at 293 (emphasis added) (citations omitted).

[14] 174 U.S. 639 (1899)

[15] Id. at 646.

[16] Id. at 649.

[17] Id. at 652 (citations omitted).

[18] Letter from Peter J. Kadzik, Principal Deputy Assistant Att’y Gen., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, to Senator Patrick Leahy Attaching Responses of William Baer, Assistant Att’y Gen. Antitrust Div., U.S. Dep’t of Justice to Questions for the Record Arising from the Nov. 14, 2013 Hearing of the Senate Comm. of the Judiciary Regarding Cartel Prosecution: Stopping Price Fixers and Protecting Consumers at 3 (Jan. 24, 2014) (emphasis added), available at http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/111413QFRs-Baer.pdf.

[19]  Robert E. Connolly, Per Se “Plus:” A Proposal to Revise the Per se Rule in Criminal Antitrust Cases, Antitrust, Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2015, p. 105.

Georgia Real Estate Investor Convicted of Bid Rigging and Bank Fraud at Public Foreclosure Auctions

Friday, June 16, 2017

A federal jury convicted a real estate investor of bid rigging and bank fraud related to public foreclosure auctions held in Georgia, the Department of Justice announced today.

Douglas L. Purdy was convicted today following a two-week trial before the Honorable Richard W. Story in Gainesville, Georgia.  The jury convicted Purdy on one count of bid rigging and two counts of bank fraud for participating in the charged conspiracy and scheme at Forsyth County, Georgia, foreclosure auctions from 2008 to 2011.

The evidence at trial showed that Purdy and his co-conspirators agreed not to compete for real estate at foreclosure auctions in Forsyth County and defrauded lender banks and homeowners.  Among other methods, the conspirators held secret “second auctions” of properties they had obtained through rigged bids, dividing among themselves the auction proceeds that should have gone to pay off debts against the properties and, in some cases, to homeowners.

A federal grand jury in the Northern District of Georgia returned an indictment against Purdy on Feb. 3, 2016.  Including Purdy’s conviction, 23 real estate investors have either pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial as a result of the Department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions in the Atlanta area.

The Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section and the FBI’s Atlanta Division conducted the investigation, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Georgia.  Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Washington Criminal II Section of the Antitrust Division at 202-598-4000 or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

Fourth Individual in NYPA Big-Rigging Scandal Comes Forward, Faces up to Three Years and $250,000

Washington, D.C.-  The New York Power Authority (NYPA) has recently come under multilateral investigation over allegations of bid rigging, tax fraud, and market fixture.  The DOJ, IRS, and New York Inspector General are all working jointly in this case and have subsequently made their fourth indivdual charge.  John Simonlacaj (White Plains, NY) has confessed to aiding the NYPA in filing false tax returns and now faces up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The original article is reproduced below with its link following.

 

Fourth Individual Charged in Ongoing New York Power Authority Procurement Fraud Investigation

The Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the New York State Inspector General, which are all conducting a joint federal and state investigation into bid-rigging, fraud and tax-related offenses in the award of contracts at the New York Power Authority (NYPA), announced today that a Westchester County, New York, resident pleaded guilty today to aiding and assisting in the filing of a false tax return.

According to the one-count felony charge filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in White Plains, New York, John Simonlacaj caused another individual to file a Form 1040 for the tax year 2010 that substantially understated that individual’s taxable income.  Simonlacaj pleaded guilty to aiding and assisting in the filing of a false tax return, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“Our investigation into bid rigging and fraud by companies supplying the New York Power Authority has uncovered a variety of criminal activity,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Renata Hesse, head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “Filing a false tax return is a serious offense and we are pleased to have worked with our partners in law enforcement to prosecute the criminal violation.”

“We say many times the FBI won’t stop until we find everyone responsible for their roles in a criminal investigation,” said Assistant Director in Charge Diego Rodriguez of the FBI’s New York Field Office.  “These charges prove our tenacity in digging until we hit the bottom of the pile and uncover anyone who had a part in criminal wrongdoing.”

“Today’s plea marks yet another defendant admitting guilt following a bid rigging investigation that began at the state level. My office and those of my federal law enforcement partners, will continue to follow the evidence wherever it may lead,” said New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott.

“Mr. Simonlacaj is now held accountable for his role in filing a false tax return,” said Special Agent in Charge Shantelle P. Kitchen of the IRS Criminal Investigation New York Field Office.  “Towards pursuing its goal of ensuring that that everyone pays their fair share of taxes, IRS Criminal Investigation remains committed to this ongoing investigation.”

The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s New York Office with the assistance of the FBI, IRS Criminal Investigation and the New York State Office of the Inspector General.  NYPA is cooperating with the investigation.  Anyone with information on bid rigging or other anticompetitive conducted related to the award or performance of municipal and state contracts should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258 or visit http://www.just

Original Link

 

Georgia Real Estate Investors Plead Guilty to Bid Rigging and Fraud at Public Foreclosure Auctions

Two Georgia real estate investors pleaded guilty today for their roles in a conspiracy to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Georgia, the Department of Justice announced.

Separate felony charges were filed against Mohammad Adeel Yoonas and Kevin Shin on Dec. 23, 2014, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta.  According to court documents, from at least as early as April 2008 until at least March 2012, Yoonas conspired with others not to bid against one another, but instead designated a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Gwinnett County, Georgia.  Yoonas was also charged with a conspiracy to use the mail to carry out a scheme to fraudulently acquire titles to selected Gwinnett County properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs and to divert money to co-conspirators that would have gone to mortgage holders, homeowners 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.

Shin, according to court documents, conspired with others not to bid against one another, but instead designated a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Gwinnett County from at least as early as March 2009 until at least March 2012.  Shin was also charged with a conspiracy to use the mail to carry out a scheme to fraudulently acquire title to selected Gwinnett County properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs and to divert money to co-conspirators that would have gone to mortgage holders, homeowners 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.

“These six guilty pleas result from the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation into schemes to rig public real estate foreclosure auctions in Georgia,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer for the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “The division will continue working with its law enforcement partners to expose cartels that harm distressed homeowners and lenders.”

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 Gwinnett County public foreclosure auctions at non-competitive 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.  According to court documents, these conspirators paid and received money that otherwise would have gone to pay off the mortgage and other holders of debt secured by the properties, and, in some cases, the defaulting homeowner.

“The criminal actions of the defendants in this case provide a clear example of why enforcement of the Sherman Act remains necessary in maintaining a level and competitive field within commerce,” said Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson for the FBI Atlanta Field Office.  “The FBI will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division in identifying such financial schemes that attempt to take unfair advantage, to include those targeting the foreclosure auction process.”

A 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 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.  A count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine in an amount equal to the greatest of $250,000, twice the gross gain the conspirators derived from the crime or twice the gross loss caused to the victims of the crime by the conspirators.

The investigation is being conducted by Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section and the FBI’s Atlanta Division, with the assistance of the Atlanta Field Office of the Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.  Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions in Georgia should contact Washington Criminal II Section of the Antitrust Division at 202-598-4000, call the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 1-888-647-3258, or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm.

Today’s charges were brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations.  Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed nearly 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,900 mortgage fraud defendants.  For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.

Northern California Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Bid Rigging and Fraud at Public Foreclosure Auctions

Investigations Have Yielded 51 Plea Agreements and Five Indictments to Date

A Northern California real estate investor pleaded guilty for his role in bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

Charles Rock was indicted on Dec. 3, 2014, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland, California.  The indictment alleged that Charles Rock and others agreed not to compete at public foreclosure auctions in Contra Costa County, California, and diverted money to themselves that should have gone to mortgage holders and other beneficiaries.  Charles Rock pleaded guilty to one count of bid rigging and two counts of mail fraud.

To date, 51 individuals have agreed to plead or have pleaded guilty as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California.  In addition, 21 real estate investors, including Charles Rock, have been charged in five multi-count indictments for their roles in bid-rigging and fraud schemes at foreclosure auctions in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties.

The indictment alleges, among other things, that as early as June 2008 until about January 2011, Charles Rock and others conspired to rig bids to obtain numerous properties sold at foreclosure auctions in Contra Costa County, negotiated payoffs for agreeing not to compete, held second, private auctions known as “rounds,” concealed those rounds and payoffs, and in the process, defrauded mortgage holders and other beneficiaries.

“This is the first post-indictment plea resulting from the investigation and marks a positive step forward in resolving the case,” said Brent Snyder, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program.  “It is important for those who conspired to profit from rigged bids and illegal payoffs to take responsibility for their actions.”

“These charges demonstrate our continued commitment to investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations responsible for the corruption of the public foreclosure auction process,” said David J. Johnson, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Office.  “The FBI is committed to work these important cases and remains unwavering in our dedication to bring the members of these illegal conspiracies to justice.”

A 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 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 $1 million.  Each count of mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Today’s charges are the latest 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, California.  These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco 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 Office at 415-934-5300, or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

Today’s charges were brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations.  Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed nearly 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,900 mortgage fraud defendants.  For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.

Five Northern California Real Estate Investors Indicted for Bid Rigging and Fraud at Public Foreclosure Auctions

A federal grand jury in San Francisco returned a nine-count indictment against five real estate investors for their role in bid rigging and fraud at foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

The indictment, filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland, California, charges Northern California real estate investors John Michael Galloway, Nicholas Diaz, Glenn Guillory, Thomas Joyce and Charles Rock with participating in a conspiracy to rig bids and a scheme to defraud mortgage holders and others.  The indictment alleges that the defendants agreed not to compete at public foreclosure auctions in Contra Costa County, California, and diverted money to themselves and others that should have gone to mortgage holders and other beneficiaries.

To date, 50 individuals have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging and fraud at public foreclosure auctions in Northern California.  In addition, 21 real estate investors have been charged in five multi-count indictments for their roles in bid rigging and fraud schemes at foreclosure auctions in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties.

“The Antitrust Division will continue to cooperate with its law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who undermine the competitive market for foreclosed properties,” said Brent Snyder, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program.  “Public auctions are meant for the public, not for an elite group conspiring together for their own profit.”

The indictments allege, among other things, that as early as June 2008 until about January 2011, the defendants conspired to rig bids to obtain numerous properties sold at foreclosure auctions in Contra Costa County, negotiated payoffs for agreeing not to compete, held second, private auctions known as “rounds,” concealed those rounds and payoffs, and, in the process, defrauded mortgage holders and other beneficiaries.

“These charges demonstrate our continued commitment to investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations responsible for the corruption of the public foreclosure auction process,” said David J. Johnson, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Office.  “The FBI is committed to work these important cases and remains unwavering in our dedication to bring the members of these illegal conspiracies to justice.”

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 mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.  The government can also seek to forfeit the proceeds earned from participating in the mail fraud schemes.  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 victims if either amount is greater than $1 million.

Today’s charges are the latest 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, California.  These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco 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 Office at 415-934-5300, or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

The charges were brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations.  Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed nearly 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,900 mortgage fraud defendants.  For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA REAL ESTATE INVESTOR AGREES TO PLEAD GUILTY TO BID RIGGING AND FRAUD AT PUBLIC FORECLOSURE AUCTIONS

WASHINGTON — A Northern California real estate investor has agreed to plead guilty for his role in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

Felony charges were filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland against Garry Wan of Concord, California.  To date, 50 individuals have agreed to plead or have pleaded guilty, as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California.

According to court documents, beginning as early as May 2008 until January 2011, Wan conspired with others not to bid against one another, and instead designate a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Alameda County.  Wan was also charged with conspiring to use the mail to carry out a scheme to fraudulently acquire title to selected Alameda County properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs, and to divert money to co-conspirators that would have otherwise gone to mortgage holders and other beneficiaries 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 often took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held.

“While there has been a lengthy series of guilty pleas by the participants in this activity, the division’s work is not yet over,” said Brent Snyder, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program.  “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute collusion at real estate foreclosure auctions, which allow the conspirators to profit from illegal payoffs at the expense of financial institutions and distressed homeowners.”

The department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and eliminate competition and to conceal payoffs in order to obtain selected real estate offered at Alameda County public foreclosure auctions at non-competitive 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. According to court documents, these conspirators paid and received money that otherwise would have gone to pay off the mortgage and other holders of debt secured by the properties, and, in some cases, the defaulting homeowner.

“These charges demonstrate our continued commitment to investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations responsible for the corruption of the public foreclosure auction process,” said David J. Johnson, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Office.  “The FBI is committed to work these important cases and remains unwavering in our dedication to bring the members of these illegal conspiracies to justice.”

A 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 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 $1 million.  A 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.

Today’s charges are the latest 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, California.  These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco 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 Office at 415-934-5300, or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

Today’s charges were brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed nearly 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,900 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.

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Two Northern California Real Estate Investors Agree to Plead Guilty to Bid Rigging and Fraud at Public Foreclosure Auctions

Two Northern California real estate investors have agreed to plead guilty for their role in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

Felony charges were filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland against Su Chu Chou “Terry” Cheng and Chung Li “George” Cheng of Walnut Creek, California.

To date, as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, 49 individuals have agreed to plead or have pleaded guilty.

Between May 2008 and January 2011, according to the court documents, George and Terry Cheng conspired with others not to bid against one another, and instead designated a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.  George and Terry Cheng were also charged with conspiring to use the mail to carry out a scheme to fraudulently acquire title to selected Alameda and Contra Costa County properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs, and to divert money to co-conspirators that would have otherwise gone to mortgage holders and other beneficiaries 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 often took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held.

“The Antitrust Division continues to vigorously pursue and prosecute those who rig bids and commit fraud at real estate foreclosure auctions,” said Brent Snyder, Deputy Assistant Attorney for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program.  “The division is committed to working closely with its law enforcement partners to ensure that these real estate auctions are fair and open so that consumers will benefit from competition.”

The department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and eliminate competition and to conceal payoffs in order to obtain selected real estate offered at Alameda and Contra Costa County public foreclosure auctions at non-competitive 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.  These conspirators paid and received money, according to the court documents, that otherwise would have gone to pay off the mortgage and other holders of debt secured by the properties, and, in some cases, the defaulting homeowner.

“These charges demonstrate our continued commitment to investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations responsible for the corruption of the public foreclosure auction process,” said David J. Johnson, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Office.  “The FBI is committed to work these important cases and remains unwavering in our dedication to bring the members of these illegal conspiracies to justice.”

A 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 the Sherman Act charges may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims if either amount is greater than $1 million.  A 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.

Today’s charges are the latest 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, California.  These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco 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 Office at 415-934-5300, or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

Today’s charges were brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations.  Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed nearly 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,900 mortgage fraud defendants.  For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.

ELEVEN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA REAL ESTATE INVESTORS INDICTED FOR

WASHINGTON — A federal grand jury in San Francisco returned three multi-count indictments against eleven real estate investors for their role in bid rigging and fraud schemes at foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

The indictments, filed late yesterday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland, California, charge Northern California real estate investors Michael Marr; Javier Sanchez; Gregory Casorso; Victor Marr; John Shiells; Miguel De Sanz; Alvin Florida Jr.; Robert A. Rasheed; John L. Berry III; Refugio Diaz; and Stephan A. Florida with participating in conspiracies to rig bids and schemes to defraud mortgage holders and others.  The indictments allege that the defendants agreed not to compete at public auctions in return for payoffs and diverted money to themselves and others that should have gone to mortgage holders and other beneficiaries.  All defendants were charged with bid rigging and fraud in Alameda County, California.  Marr, Sanchez, Shiells, and De Sanz were also charged with bid rigging and fraud in Contra Costa County, California.  Additionally, Shiells and De Sanz were charged with bid rigging and fraud in San Francisco County, California.

To date, 47 individuals have pleaded guilty to criminal charges as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging and fraud at public foreclosure auctions in Northern California.  On Oct. 22, 2014, a federal grand jury in San Francisco returned an eight-count indictment against five additional real estate investors for their role in bid rigging and fraud schemes at foreclosure auctions in San Mateo and San Francisco Counties, California.

“Collusion at the foreclosure auctions created an unfair playing field where conspirators pocketed illegal payoffs at the expense of lenders and distressed homeowners,” said Brent Snyder, Deputy Assistant Attorney for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program.  “The division will continue to investigate and prosecute local cartels that harm the competitive process.”

The indictments allege, among other things, that at various times between June 2007 and January 2011, the defendants conspired to rig bids to obtain numerous properties sold at foreclosure auctions in Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco counties, negotiated payoffs for agreeing not to compete, held second, private auctions known as “rounds,” concealed those rounds and payoffs, and, in the process, defrauded mortgage holders and other beneficiaries.

“These charges demonstrate our continued commitment to investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations responsible for the corruption of the public foreclosure auction process,” said David J. Johnson, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Office.  “The FBI is committed to work these important cases and remains unwavering in our dedication to bring the members of these illegal conspiracies to justice.”

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 mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.  The government can also seek to forfeit the proceeds earned from participating in the mail fraud schemes.  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 victims if either amount is greater than $1 million.

These indictments are the latest charges 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, California.  These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco 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 Office at 415-934-5300, or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

The charges were brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations.  Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed nearly 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,900 mortgage fraud defendants.  For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.

Alabama Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud

An Alabama real estate investor pleaded guilty yesterday for his role in a conspiracy to commit mail fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions held in southern Alabama, the Department of Justice announced today.  To date, 10 individuals and two companies have pleaded guilty in connection with the department’s ongoing investigation into bid rigging and fraudulent schemes in the Alabama real estate foreclosure auction industry.

Chad E. Foster, a resident of Theodore, Alabama, pleaded guilty yesterday to an indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud affecting a financial institution.  According to court documents, Foster knowingly joined a conspiracy with others to, among other things, fraudulently acquire title to selected properties at artificially suppressed prices, to conduct secret, second auctions open only to members of the conspiracy, to make payoffs to and receive payoffs from co-conspirators, and to divert money away from financial institutions, homeowners and others with a legal interest in selected properties.

“This guilty plea demonstrates the Antitrust Division’s resolve to pursue those who conspire to defraud distressed homeowners and financial institutions,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “The division will continue to hold accountable individuals who subvert the competitive process for their own gains.”

“We are committed to partnering with the Antitrust Division,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert F. Lasky of the Mobile Field Office.  “And we will hold accountable those individuals who profited illegally at the expense of financial institutions and struggling homeowners.”

The charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud affecting a financial institution carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Yesterday’s charge stems from an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section and the FBI’s Mobile Field Office, with the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama.  Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions in Alabama should call the Antitrust Division at 202-598-4000, or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm.

Yesterday’s charges were brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations.  Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed nearly 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,900 mortgage fraud defendants.  For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.