Mississippi Real Estate Investors Plead Guilty to Conspiring to Rig Bids at Public Foreclosure Auctions

April 10, 2018

Real estate investors Kevin Moore, Chad Nichols, and Terry Tolar pleaded guilty today for their roles in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Mississippi, the Department of Justice announced.

Including Moore, Nichols, and Tolar, five real estate investors have pleaded guilty in this conspiracy. Separate felony charges against Moore, Nichols, and Tolar were filed on April 3, 2018, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “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.”

According to court documents, from at least as early as January 12, 2012, through at least as late as April 19, 2017, Moore conspired with others to rig bids, designating a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in the Southern District of Mississippi. Nichols participated in the conspiracy from as early as April 14, 2010, through as late as February 25, 2015, and Tolar’s participation began as early as January 12, 2012, through as late as March 31, 2017. Co-conspirators made and received payoffs in exchange for their agreement not to bid.

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. 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 any remaining proceeds paid to the homeowner. According to court documents, these conspirators paid and received money in connection with their agreement to suppress competition, which artificially lowered the price paid at auction for such homes.

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.

The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section and the FBI’s Gulfport Resident Agency, with the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact Antitrust Division prosecutors in the Washington Criminal II Section at 202-598-4000, or visit https://www.justice.gov/atr/report-violations.

CCC’s: Will the Antitrust Division Need Its Own Compliance Monitor?

 by  Leave a Comment

The headline sounds funny, but the story is no laughing matter.  A plea agreement in the electrolytic capacitor investigation between the United States and Nippon Chemi-Con (“NCC”) is in jeopardy because of an unfortunate conflict of interest lapse by an attorney at the Department of Justice.  There was a hearing before Judge Donato yesterday on NCC’s change of plea.  Judge Donato, who has been critical of previous plea agreements in the electrolytic capacitor investigation, accepted the guilty plea but reserved judgment on the sentence to be imposed.  The plea agreement calls for a fine of between $40 and $60 million.  NCC may withdraw its plea if the Judge imposes a fine greater than that called for by the plea agreement.  A sentencing hearing is scheduled for October 3, 2018.

Background

On October 18, 2017 a federal grand jury returned an indictment against NCC for participating in a conspiracy to fix prices for electrolytic capacitors. The indictment, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, charges that NCC, based in Japan, conspired to fix prices for electrolytic capacitors from as early as September 1997 until January 2014.  Three current NCC executives, and one former NCC executive, were previously indicted for their participation in the conspiracy: Takuro Isawa, Takeshi Matsuzaka, Yasutoshi Ohno, and Kaname Takahashi.  The DOJ’s press release can be found here.

The indictment alleges NCC carried out the conspiracy by agreeing with co-conspirators to fix prices of electrolytic capacitors during meetings and other communications.  According to the indictment, NCC and its co-conspirators took steps to conceal the conspiracy, including the use of code names and providing misleading justifications for prices and bids submitted to customers in order to cover up their collusive conduct.  The indictment can be found here.

To date, eight companies and ten individuals have been charged with participating in the conspiracy to fix prices of electrolytic capacitors.

The Problem (if you’re the Government) or Opportunity (if you’re the defense)

The issue that was debated at the change of plea hearing before Judge Donato was first identified in a Joint Status Report filed on May 11, 2018.  The parties reported that an attorney who formerly had represented NCC left his law firm, joined the Department of Justice and later did some work on an MLAT request the Department filed with the Japanese government that related to NCC.  In the Status Report the Antitrust Division wrote:

“The attorney left Firm A and joined OIA in February 2015. Shortly thereafter, in March 2015, he performed several tasks to assist the Antitrust Division in executing and transmitting a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (“MLAT”) request to interview a witness in Japan, on topics including NCC’s conduct in the charged price-fixing conspiracy. The Antitrust Division remained unaware of his prior representation of NCC until February 15, 2018.”

The Antitrust Division conceded that the attorney should have recused himself but argued that there was no prejudice to NCC.  NCC strongly disagreed about the impact of a defense attorney “switching sides.”  The company unsuccessfully lobbied the DOJ to dismiss the indictment.  That request was declined but a plea agreement was reached that clearly was more favorable to NCC than the Antitrust Division  might have offered without the conflict issue.  The complete Status Report on the matter can be found here:  Case 4-17-cr-00540-JD Document 47 Filed 05:11:18

The Change of Plea Hearing

Judge Donato accepted the plea of NCC but reserved judgment on the sentence.  Sentencing is scheduled for October 3, 2018.  Judge Donato has required changes to negotiated plea agreements with other defendants in the capacitor investigation believing them to be too lenient.  If Judge Donato does not agree to sentence NCC within the parameters of its plea agreement, NCC can withdraw its plea.  The court spent approximately 30 minutes in closed session exploring the impact on the conflict lapse on the terms the Antitrust Division offered in the plea agreement.

Judge Donato was obviously upset at the lack of procedures at the DOJ to identify and prevent this conflict.  The Antitrust Division tried to demonstrate that it took the matter seriously by sending Marvin Price, the Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Criminal Enforcement out to San Francisco to represent the Government at the hearing.

The case is U.S. v. Nippon Chemi-Con Corp., case number 4:17-cr-00540-JD.

More to come.

CCC’s: DOJ Announces “Coordination of Corporate Resolution Penalties” Policy

 by  Leave a Comment

On May 9, 2018 Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein delivered remarks to the New York City Bar White Collar Crime Institute. He announced a new Department policy that encourages coordination among Department components and other enforcement agencies when imposing multiple penalties for the same conduct.  The full prepared remarks are here.  Below is an excerpt:

Today, we are announcing a new Department policy that encourages coordination among Department components and other enforcement agencies when imposing multiple penalties for the same conduct.

The aim is to enhance relationships with our law enforcement partners in the United States and abroad, while avoiding unfair duplicative penalties.

It is important for us to be aggressive in pursuing wrongdoers. But we should discourage disproportionate enforcement of laws by multiple authorities. In football, the term “piling on” refers to a player jumping on a pile of other players after the opponent is already tackled.

Our new policy discourages “piling on” by instructing Department components to appropriately coordinate with one another and with other enforcement agencies in imposing multiple penalties on a company in relation to investigations of the same misconduct.

In highly regulated industries, a company may be accountable to multiple regulatory bodies. That creates a risk of repeated punishments that may exceed what is necessary to rectify the harm and deter future violations.

Sometimes government authorities coordinate well.  They are force multipliers in their respective efforts to punish and deter fraud. They achieve efficiencies and limit unnecessary regulatory burdens.

Other times, joint or parallel investigations by multiple agencies sound less like singing in harmony, and more like competing attempts to sing a solo.

Modern business operations regularly span jurisdictions and borders. Whistleblowers routinely report allegations to multiple enforcement authorities, which may investigate the claims jointly or through their own separate and independent proceedings.

By working with other agencies, including the SEC, CFTC, Federal Reserve, FDIC, OCC, OFAC, and others, our Department is better able to detect sophisticated financial fraud schemes and deploy adequate penalties and remedies to ensure market integrity.

But we have heard concerns about “piling on” from our own Department personnel. Our prosecutors and civil enforcement attorneys prize the Department’s reputation for fairness.

They understand the importance of protecting our brand. They asked for support in coordinating internally and with other agencies to achieve reasonable and proportionate outcomes in major corporate investigations.

And I know many federal, state, local and foreign authorities that work with us are interested in joining our efforts to show leadership in this area.

“Piling on” can deprive a company of the benefits of certainty and finality ordinarily available through a full and final settlement. We need to consider the impact on innocent employees, customers, and investors who seek to resolve problems and move on. We need to think about whether devoting resources to additional enforcement against an old scheme is more valuable than fighting a new one.

Our new policy provides no private right of action and is not enforceable in court, but it will be incorporated into the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, and it will guide the Department’s decisions.

This is another step towards greater transparency and consistency in corporate enforcement. To reduce white collar crime, we need to encourage companies to report suspected wrongdoing to law enforcement and to resolve liability expeditiously.

There are four key features of the new policy.

First, the policy affirms that the federal government’s criminal enforcement authority should not be used against a company for purposes unrelated to the investigation and prosecution of a possible crime. We should not employ the threat of criminal prosecution solely to persuade a company to pay a larger settlement in a civil case.

That is not a policy change. It is a reminder of and commitment to principles of fairness and the rule of law.

Second, the policy addresses situations in which Department attorneys in different components and offices may be seeking to resolve a corporate case based on the same misconduct.

The new policy directs Department components to coordinate with one another, and achieve an overall equitable result. The coordination may include crediting and apportionment of financial penalties, fines, and forfeitures, and other means of avoiding disproportionate punishment.

Third, the policy encourages Department attorneys, when possible, to coordinate with other federal, state, local, and foreign enforcement authorities seeking to resolve a case with a company for the same misconduct.

Finally, the new policy sets forth some factors that Department attorneys may evaluate in determining whether multiple penalties serve the interests of justice in a particular case.

Sometimes, penalties that may appear duplicative really are essential to achieve justice and protect the public. In those cases, we will not hesitate to pursue complete remedies, and to assist our law enforcement partners in doing the same.

Factors identified in the policy that may guide this determination include the egregiousness of the wrongdoing; statutory mandates regarding penalties; the risk of delay in finalizing a resolution; and the adequacy and timeliness of a company’s disclosures and cooperation with the Department.

Cooperating with a different agency or a foreign government is not a substitute for cooperating with the Department of Justice. And we will not look kindly on companies that come to the Department of Justice only after making inadequate disclosures to secure lenient penalties with other agencies or foreign governments. In those instances, the Department will act without hesitation to fully vindicate the interests of the United States.

The Department’s ability to coordinate outcomes in joint and parallel proceedings is also constrained by more practical concerns.  The timing of other agency actions, limits on information sharing across borders, and diplomatic relations between countries are some of the challenges we confront that do not always lend themselves to easy solutions.

The idea of coordination is not new. The Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and many of our U.S. Attorney’s Offices routinely coordinate with the SEC, CFTC, Federal Reserve, and other financial regulators, as well as a wide variety of foreign partners. The FCPA Unit announced its first coordinated resolution with the country of Singapore this past December.

The Antitrust Division has cooperated with 21 international agencies through 58 different merger investigations during the past four years.

Here is a link to the policy on Coordination of Corporate Resolution Penalties.

As the Deputy Attorney General stated, coordination is not new.  The Antitrust Division routinely coordinates with other federal and state agencies on most investigations.  And some coordination always occurs on international investigations.  In the recent financial crimes investigations such as Libor and FOREX the amount of coordination was extensive among federal agencies such as the Antitrust Division, Criminal Division, FBI, SEC, CFTC, state AG office, as well as with many foreign jurisdictions.  It is rumored that meetings were held in the Great Hall at the Department of Justice since no conference room could hold the throngs of participating enforcers.

Coordination by the Antitrust Division with enforcers from other federal, state and international enforcers is not new, but there is a continual debate about whether such coordination prevents “piling on.”  Of course, what a defense attorney may call piling on, the prosecutors may deem to be a hard but fair hit.  There is no referee or instant replay.  The question of piling on or double counting is a subject of continuing debate in antitrust circles.  It’s a tough question as foreign jurisdictions are injured by international cartels and they have stakeholders that want a significant penalty.  Sorting out proportional penalties among sovereign nations is a particularly tough ongoing challenge. This new policy document is not going to end that debate but a written policy document (while creating no new rights) could enhance defendants’ power of persuasion with the Department of Justice if they have some credible numbers to back up a “piling on” argument.

Thanks for reading.

PS.  Several publications have reported that Richard Powers will become the next Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Criminal Enforcement in the Antitrust Division.  The Antitrust Division has made no announcement yet.  One of the many qualifications Mr. Powers will bring to the position, if he is named as the Criminal Deputy, is his experience in multi-agency, international prosecutions. He worked on both Libor and Forex while a member of the Antitrust Division’s New York Field Office.

CCC’s: What do we know about algorithmic collusion? (Guest Post by Ai Deng PhD)

 by  Leave a Comment

Dr. Ai Deng of Bates White Economic Consulting has been a long time and frequent contributor to Cartel Capers.  He is a leading voice in the area of artificial intelligence and algorithmic collusion.  You can follow him on LinkedIn (here).  HIs most recent post is below:

************************************

I had the pleasure of speaking about artificial intelligence and algorithmic collusion at the American Bar Association Section of Antitrust Law Spring Meeting 2018 last month. The star war-themed session seemed to have gone very well. I want to thank again Paul Saint-Antoine, Lesli Esposito, Professors Maurice Stucke and Joshua Gans for putting together the panel with me.

I have just posted another article on algorithmic collusion on SSRN. The paper is partially based on my remarks at the Spring Meeting but expands on several fronts. Below is the abstract. You can download the full working paper at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3171315

Abstract

The past few years have seen many legal scholars and antitrust agencies expressing interest in and concerns with algorithmic collusion. In this paper, I survey and draw lessons from the literature on Artificial Intelligence and on the economics of algorithmic tacit collusion. I show that a good understanding of this literature is a crucial first step to better understand the antitrust risks of algorithmic pricing and devise antitrust policies to combat such risks.

Keywords: algorithmic pricingalgorithmic collusionartificial intelligenceantitrust

This is one of a series of papers I have written in the past year about the general topic of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and their implications on antitrust issues.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts and comments. You can reach me at ai.deng@bateswhite.com or connect with me on LinkedIn [here]

Ai Deng, PhD

Principal at Bates White Economic Consulting

Lecturer at Advanced Academic Program, Johns Hopkins University

direct: 2022161802 | fax: 2024087838

1300 Eye Street NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005

CCC’s: It’s A Crime There Isn’t a Criminal Antitrust Whistleblower Statute

 by  4 Comments

Kimberly Justice and I are continuing to write about what we believe is a very important issue in cartel fighting–the passing of criminal antitrust whistleblower legislation.  Below are the opening paragraphs of our latest article on the subject.  The full article, kindly posted by Wolters Kluwer in their Antitrust Law Daily, can be found here.

“The SEC’s wildly successful whistleblower program has returned hundreds of millions of dollars to investors as a result of actionable whistleblower information over the past six years.  The IRS paid one whistleblower more than $100 million for information that helped the government uncover a massive tax evasion scheme and led to a $780 million settlement.  The CFTC predicts that the results of its whistleblower program this year will be “huge.”  The Antitrust Division has paid $0 to whistleblowers and received $0 from cartels exposed by whistleblowers.  Or, as Charlie Brown would say, the Antitrust Division “got a rock.”

There is no cartel whistleblower program and this should change now.  Price-fixing and bid-rigging conspiracies are felonies costing American consumers millions of dollars in the form of artificially high prices.  These fraudulent schemes are particularly suited to exposure by whistleblowers because senior corporate executives frequently use lower level employees (and potential whistleblowers) to carry out the illegal scheme.  The time is right for serious antitrust whistleblower legislation.”

 

Full article here

Thanks for reading.  If you have any reaction/comment you’d like to share please use the comment section or through LinkedIn (here).

CCC’s: Employee No-Poach Agreement Compliance Talk: Knock it Off! Now!!

A hot topic at the ABA Antitrust Section Spring Meeting in DC that I recently attended, and in antitrust in general, is the treatment of employee “no-poach” agreements between companies.  Naked no-poach agreements are illegal schemes wherein companies agree to not solicit or hire each other’s employees.  These per se illegal agreements have, till now, been prosecuted as civil violations.  In October 2016, however, the Antitrust Division and FTC issued joint Guidance to Human Resource Professionals warning that certain no poach agreements may be prosecuted criminally.  Since that time the Antitrust Division has repeated the message that naked no-poach agreements that begin or continue after October 2016 will be treated as any other cartel behavior; meaning the investigation and prosecution will likely be as a criminal violation.  Very recently, the Antitrust Division reached a civil settlement with rail equipment suppliers Knorr-Bremse and Wabtec over allegations of a long-standing agreement to not compete for each other’s employees.  The DOJ press release (here) explained the case was brought civilly because the illegal agreements ended before October 2016. There is more background in prior Cartel Capers posts here and here.

I applaud the Division’s commitment to treat naked no-poach agreement as possible criminal violations. It has puzzled me why employee (input) allocation agreements were ever thought to warrant civil treatment.  To be sure, there are times when an agreement not to hire away another company’s employees may be ancillary to some legitimate integration such as joint research.  You don’t want the other guy to size up your good people and steal them.  But, a naked agreement—I won’t hire away your employees if you won’t hire away mine—is a naked restraint of trade; to my mind just as bad as any customer or supplier allocation scheme.

A glimpse of how this collusion works is explained in an excerpt of a talk by then Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer discussing some of the details of a no-poach agreement between eBay and Intuit as alleged in a 2013 civil case (here):

“The behavior was blatant and egregious.  And the agreements were fully documented in company electronic communications.  In one email, eBay’s senior vice president of HR wrote Meg Whitman complaining that while eBay was adhering to its agreement not to hire Intuit employees, “it is hard to do this when Intuit recruits our folks.”  Turns out that Intuit had sent a recruiting flyer to an eBay employee.  Whitman forwarded that email to Scott Cook asking him to “remind your folks not to send this stuff to eBay people.”  Cook quickly responded with “…Meg my apologies.  I’ll find out how this slip up occurred again….”

Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer Speaks at the Conference Call Regarding the Justice Department’s Settlement with eBay Inc. to End Anticompetitive “No Poach” Hiring Agreements, Thursday, May 1, 2014.

Another graphic example of an employee collusion case is reported in the The Verge, Steve Jobs personally asked Eric Schmidt to stop poaching employees, January 27, 2012 (here)

  • Steve Jobs personally emailed Eric Schmidt to ask Google to stop poaching an Apple engineer, and Google responded by arranging to immediately and publicly fire the employee who initiated the call.

  • “Mr. Jobs wrote: “I would be very pleased if your recruiting department would stop doing this.”

  • Schmidt forwarded Mr. Jobs’s email to undisclosed recipients, writing: “I believe we have a policy of no recruiting from Apple and this is a direct inbound request. Can you get this stopped and let me know why this is happening? I will need to send a response back to Apple quickly so please let me know as soon as you can.”

  • Geshuri [a Google executive] told Mr. Schmidt that the employee “who contacted this Apple employee should not have and will be terminated within the hour.” Mr. Geshuri further wrote: “Please extend my apologies as appropriate to Steve Jobs. This was an isolated incident and we will be very careful to make sure this does not happen again.”

  • Three days later, Shona Brown, Google’s Senior Vice President for Business Operations, replied to Mr. Geshuri, writing: “Appropriate response, thank you. Please make a public example of this termination with the group.”

This behavior is a particularly damaging form of collusion.  Imagine you are an employee at a high tech, or any firm.  You really don’t like your job.  Maybe it’s the boss you don’t get along with.  Maybe you get lousy assignments; no opportunity for advancement; you think you’re under appreciated, overworked and underpaid (maybe you work at a law firm?).  You’d like to get another job, but your application/resumes go unanswered.  You can’t seem to get any interest from the other big firm in town.  You not only are stuck at the same pay, same boss, same job, but your self-esteem takes a hit too.  (When I was in law school applying for jobs, my roommates and I jokingly made a ‘wall of shame” of all the rejection letters.  But, the disappointment was real).  No-poach agreements are restraints of trade that are very focused on individuals and have a significant impact on their lives.  The harm seems greater to me, and perhaps to a sentencing judge, than a price fixing scheme that inflates prices a small amount, though over perhaps thousands of customers.

Compliance guidance should not just explain the shift in DOJ policy towards naked no-poach agreements, but to explain how these agreements actually and very negatively can affect people’s lives and why they may be prosecuted criminally.  I rarely here the human side of the story emphasized or even mentioned in discussion about 15 U.S..C Section 1 (The Sherman Act); the per se rule versus rule of reason, etc.  Compliance guidance should also be clear about another potential human side to this story—some executive is going to be the first one facing a criminal charge with a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison for an employee no-poach agreement.

PS.     Since no-poach agreements may be treated criminally by the Antitrust Division, it is important to remember that Corporate Leniency (that also covers cooperating individuals) may be available to the first organization that self-reports.

Thanks for reading.  Bob Connolly

CCC’s: Bumble Bee CEO Indicted for Price Fixing

 by  Leave a Comment

According to a Department of Justice press release, on May 16, 2018 a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Christopher Lischewski, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Bumble Bee Foods LLC, for participating in a conspiracy to fix prices for packaged seafood sold in the United States. The indictment was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, and charged Lischewski with participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of packaged seafood beginning in or about November 2010 until December 2013.

The one-count felony indictment charges that Lischewski carried out the conspiracy by agreeing to fix the prices of packaged seafood during meetings and other communications.  The co-conspirators issued price announcements and pricing guidance in accordance with these agreements.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed.  Mr. Lischewski is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The government’s full press release can be found here.  Mr. Lischewski’s is represented by John Keker of Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP, who said in a statement (as reported by Law 360 here) that his client will be found not guilty:

“Chris Lischewski is a decent and honorable man, who has lived a hardworking and ethical life. He has been a leader and beacon within the seafood industry for more than twenty-five years. And most significantly on this dark day, he is innocent of any wrongdoing.”

Bumble Bee has already pled guilty and agreed to pay a $25 million fine.  The Lischewski indictment demonstrates that the Antitrust Division seeks to maximize deterrence by holding individuals accountable for criminal antitrust violations.  The Division seeks to indict the highest level executive they believe is justified by the evidence.

The indictment can be found here. I have no personal knowledge of the facts of this case other than from reading the public documents.  The indictment doesn’t specify whether the defendant personally attended meetings and reached agreements or whether Bumble Bee subordinates did so at his direction or with his knowledge/approval. Trials against CEO’s can be challenging because conviction often depends on the jury accepting the testimony of lower level officials at the company who may have gotten immunity or favorable plea agreements in return for their testimony.  A plea agreement with the defendant is always possible, but a trial is far more likely given the probable high sentencing guidelines range the defendant would be facing and the unlikely possibility that he would be eligible for a downward departure for cooperation at this late stage of the investigation.

Thanks for reading.

Real Estate Investor Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison for Rigging Bids at Northern California Public Foreclosure Auctions

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A real estate investor was sentenced today for his role in conspiracies to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

Michael Marr was charged on Nov. 19, 2014, in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of California.  He was convicted on June 2, 2017, of conspiring to rig bids at foreclosure auctions in Alameda and Contra Costa County.  Today, Marr was sentenced to serve 30 months in prison and to serve 3 years of supervised release.  In addition to his term of imprisonment, Marr was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $1,397,061.59.

“Michael Marr was a driving force behind a multi-year conspiracy to corrupt the public foreclosure auction process through a system of illegal payoffs,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of that crime.”

The evidence at trial showed that the defendant conspired with others to rig bids to obtain hundreds of properties sold at foreclosure auctions.  The conspirators designated the winning bidders to obtain selected properties at the public auctions, and negotiated payoffs among themselves in return for not competing with one another.  They subsequently conducted private auctions among themselves at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held, awarding the properties to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids in those private auctions.

As the CEO of Community Fund, LLC and Community Realty Property Management Inc., Marr sent multiple employees to the foreclosure auctions to rig bids on his behalf.  As part of the conspiracies, Marr’s agents purchased several hundred properties through the bid-rigging conspiracies and were owed payoffs on hundreds more.

When real estate properties are sold at public auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with the remaining proceeds paid to the homeowner.

The sentence is a result of an ongoing investigation into bid rigging at public real estate foreclosure auctions in California’s San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties, which is 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.

Mississippi Real Estate Investors Plead Guilty to Conspiracy to Rig Bids at Public Foreclosure Auctions

Thursday, February 15, 2018

First Convictions in Mississippi Real Estate Foreclosure Auctions Investigation

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

“Shannon and Jason Boykin are the first two defendants to plead guilty in the Antitrust Division’s active, ongoing investigation into anticompetitive behavior at real estate foreclosure auctions in Mississippi,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “In the past few years, the Division has secured convictions of over 100 individuals around the country.  The Division remains committed to rooting out anticompetitive conduct at foreclosure auctions.”

Felony charges against Shannon Boykin and Jason Boykin were filed on February 1, 2018, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.  According to court documents, from at least as early May 22, 2012, through at least as late as March 22, 2017, Jason and Shannon Boykin conspired with others to rig bids, designating a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in the Southern District of Mississippi. Co-conspirators made and received payoffs in exchange for their agreement not to bid.

“Rigging, cheating and swindling foreclosure auctions undermines confidence in the marketplace, defrauds companies, and hurts owners of foreclosed homes.  These criminal actions harm us all, and I commend the Antitrust Division and the FBI for their investigation and prosecution of these crimes throughout the country. This office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to combat illegal, anticompetitive behavior and protect victims,” said United States Attorney D. Michael Hurst, Jr. for the Southern District of Mississippi.

“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 competitive field of commerce,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze of the FBI in Mississippi. “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 advantage of the competitive process, including schemes targeting foreclosure auctions.”

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.  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 in connection with their agreement to suppress competition, which artificially lowered the price paid at auction for such homes.

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.

The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section and the FBI’s Gulfport Resident Agency, with the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.  Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact Antitrust Division prosecutors in the Washington Criminal II Section at 202-598-4000, or visit https://www.justice.gov/atr/report-violations.

The 3C’s: Antitrust Division to Hold Roundtable on Criminal Antitrust Compliance

 by  Leave a Comment

From the Press Release (here):

On April 9, the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division will hold a public roundtable discussion to explore the issue of corporate antitrust compliance and its implications for criminal antitrust enforcement policy.

The roundtable will provide a forum for the Antitrust Division to engage with inside and outside corporate counsel, foreign antitrust enforcers, international organization representatives, and other interested parties on the topic of antitrust compliance.  Participants will discuss the role that antitrust compliance programs play in preventing and detecting antitrust violations, and ways to further promote corporate antitrust compliance.  The format of the program will be a series of panel discussions with featured speakers.  Audience participation in the discussions will be encouraged.

* * * * Click Here for the Rest of the Story* * * *