Three Japanese Auto Parts Executives Indicted for Bid-Rigging Conspiracy Involving Body Sealing Products Installed in U.S. Cars

A federal grand jury in Covington, Kentucky, returned an indictment against one former and two current Japanese automotive executives for their alleged participation in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for the sale of automotive body sealing products sold in the United States.

The indictment, filed today in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Kentucky, charges Keiji Kyomoto, Mikio Katsumaru and Yuji Kuroda – all Japanese nationals – with conspiring to rig bids for and fix the prices of body sealing products sold to Honda Motor Company Ltd., Toyota Motor Corp. and certain of their subsidiaries and affiliates for installation in vehicles manufactured and sold in the United States and elsewhere.  Automotive body sealing products consist of body-side opening seals, door-side weather-stripping, glass-run channels, trunk lids and other smaller seals, which are installed in automobiles to keep the interior dry from rain and free from wind and exterior noises.

“These executives conspired for years with their competitors to fix the prices of body sealing products sold to Honda and Toyota and installed in U.S. cars,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brent Snyder of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “Today’s indictment is another reminder that antitrust violations are not just corporate offenses but also crimes by individuals.  The Antitrust Division will continue to vigorously prosecute executives who orchestrate their companies’ efforts to break the law.”

“The FBI is committed to aggressively investigating individuals who engage in criminal conduct that corrupts the global marketplace,” said Special Agent in Charge Howard S. Marshall of the FBI’s Louisville Division.  “We will continue our work with the Department of Justice Antitrust Division to uncover schemes aimed at creating an unfair competitive advantage by way of price fixing, bid rigging or other illegal means.”

The indictment alleges that Kyomoto, Katsumaru and Kuroda participated in the conspiracy from at least as early as September 2003 until at least October 2011.  For most of this period, Kyomoto resided in the United States and served as President of an unnamed joint venture with offices in Indiana and Michigan, which manufactured and sold automotive body sealing products.

Katsumaru, who resided in Japan, served in multiple managerial positions during the conspiracy period, including Manager of the Sales and Marketing Division, for an unnamed company based in Hiroshima, Japan, that partially owned the joint venture and also manufactured and sold automotive body sealing products.  Kuroda, who resided in Japan, served as a sales branch manager at the same Hiroshima-based company for the entirety of the charged period.

According to the indictment, Kyomoto, Katsumaru and Kuroda each instructed subordinates at their respective companies to communicate with co-conspirators at other companies in order to allocate sales of, rig bids for and fix the prices of automotive body sealing products; were aware that employees under their supervision were engaging in such communications; and condoned such communications.  The indictment further alleges that Kyomoto attended meetings in the United States with co-conspirators during which Kyomoto and the co-conspirators reached agreements regarding sales of automotive body sealing products to Honda and Toyota.  The indictment also alleges that Katsumaru and Kuroda instructed and encouraged certain employees at their company to destroy evidence of the conspiracy.  Each individual faces a maximum penalty to 10 years in prison and a $1 million criminal fine if convicted.

Today’s charge is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement sections and the FBI.  A total of 58 individuals and 37 companies have been charged and have agreed to pay more than $2.6 billion in criminal fines.  This indictment was brought by the Antitrust Division’s Chicago Office and the FBI’s Louisville Field Office, Covington Resident Agency, with the assistance of the FBI’s International Corruption Unit and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Kentucky.  Anyone with information about anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258, visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html or call the FBI’s Louisville Field Office at 502-263-6000.

Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Bid Rigging and Fraud Conspiracies at Georgia Public Foreclosure Auctions

A Georgia real estate investor pleaded guilty today for his role in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Fulton and DeKalb counties, Georgia.

Morris Podber admitted that he conspired with others not to bid against one another at public real estate foreclosure auctions on selected properties.  After the public foreclosure auctions, Podber admitted that he and his co-conspirators would divvy up the targeted properties in private side auctions, open only to the conspirators.  Podber admitted to conspiring to use the mail to carry out their fraud, which included making and receiving payoffs and diverting money to co-conspirators that should have gone to the mortgage holders and others.

“This is the ninth real estate investor held accountable for bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions in Georgia,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “We will continue to root out anticompetitive conduct at foreclosure auctions and obtain justice for homeowners and lenders.”

According to documents filed with the court, the purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and restrain competition and divert money to the conspirators 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.  Podber admitted to participating in a conspiracy in Fulton County from July 2005 until August 2010; and to participating in a conspiracy in DeKalb County from October 2006 to August 2011.

“Incidents of bid rigging at public real estate auctions continue to be an issue in Georgia and elsewhere in the United States, and the FBI would like to remind the public that such matters are violations of federal law,” said Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office.  “The FBI will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division in identifying, investigating and prosecuting those individuals engaged in such activities.”

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

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 is 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.  Since fiscal year 2009, the Justice Department has filed over 18,000 financial fraud cases against more than 25,000 defendants.  For more information about the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.

PAE Government Services and RM Asia (HK) Limited to Pay $1.45 Million to Settle Claims in Alleged Bid-Rigging Scheme

AE Government Services Inc. (PAE) and RM Asia (HK) Limited (RM Asia) have agreed to pay the United States $1.45 million to resolve allegations that they engaged in a bid-rigging scheme that resulted in false claims for payment under a U.S. Army contract for services in Afghanistan, the Justice Department announced today. PAE, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, provides integrated global mission services. RM Asia, located in Hong Kong, provides motor vehicle parts and supplies.

“Our national security and those of our allies depend on quality goods and services delivered at a fair price,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Today’s settlement demonstrates our continuing vigilance to ensure that those doing business with the government do not engage in bidrigging or other anticompetitive conduct.”

In 2007, the Army awarded PAE a contract to provide vehicle maintenance capabilities and training services for the Afghanistan National Army at multiple sites across Afghanistan. PAE partnered with RM Asia to supply and warehouse vehicle parts. The government alleged that former managers of PAE and RM Asia funneled subcontracts paid for by the government to companies owned by the former managers and their relatives by using confidential bid information to ensure that their companies would beat out other, honest competitors.

In a related criminal investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Virginia previously obtained guilty pleas from former PAE program manager Keith Johnson; Johnson’s wife, Angela Gregory Johnson; and RM Asia’s former project manager, John Eisner, and deputy project manager, Jerry Kieffer, for their roles in the scheme.

“This resolution, following criminal charges that were also brought against the individuals involved, represents the government’s efforts to use all of the criminal and civil tools available to the government to remedy fraudulent conduct,” said U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia.

The allegations resolved by this settlement arose from a lawsuit filed by Steven D. Walker, a former employee of PAE, under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and share in the recovery. Mr. Walker will receive $261,000.

This case was handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Virginia, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Command-Major Procurement Fraud Unit and the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

The lawsuit is captioned United States ex rel. Walker v. PAE, et al., 1:11CV382-LO/TCB (E.D. Va.). The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.

Competition Commission of India fines GSK and Sanofi for Bid Rigging

Today’s guest post is by Avinash Amarnath (avinash.aba@gmail.com) of Vinod Dhall and TT&A.

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CCI fines GSK and Sanofi for bid rigging

It has been quite a while since I posted an India update on Cartel Capers. This was partly due to the fact that the CCI has been relatively quiet on the cartel front for the last few months and partly because I have also been relatively busy with merger control work (which to many often comes across as quite drab compared to a juicy cartel case!).

However, breaking this prolonged silence, the CCI recently published a decision imposing fines on GSK and Sanofi, two major global pharma players as they were found to have rigged bids in a government tender for procurement of meningitis vaccines. Each year, in around May/June, the Government of India floats a tender for the purchase of QMMV (an anti-meningitis vaccine) for the purpose of vaccinating Indian pilgrims visiting Mecca on the ‘Hajj’ pilgrimage. There are only 3 major players supplying QMMV vaccines in India – GSK, Sanofi and Bio-Med (an Indian company). GSK is the largest supplier of this vaccine in the country.

The investigation of the CCI was based on a complaint by Bio-Med and related specifically to the tender floated in 2011 where Bio-Med had not been eligible to participate due to a minimum turnover requirement of the Government of India. In sum, the CCI found that the fact that GSK and Sanofi had each quoted to supply only roughly half of the tender quantity at roughly similar prices (which were significantly higher than the prices in the previous tender) constituted suspicious parallel behaviour for which the parties were unable to offer a rational explanation. The Government had raised the tender for roughly 180,000 doses of the vaccine and GSK had quoted to supply 100,000 doses at a price of INR 3000 per 10 dose vial and Sanofi had quoted to supply 90,000 doses at a price of INR 2899 per 10 dose vial. One common explanation offered by both parties was that the parties had not been able to quote for the entire tender quantity due to the extremely tight delivery schedule set by the Government. The CCI found that this tender being an annual one which was floated by the Government roughly around the same time each year, the parties would be easily able to estimate the delivery timelines in advance. Further, the CCI found that GSK had in fact, been able to supply much larger quantities of the vaccine in relatively short timeframes in previous tenders.

The CCI found that this suspicious parallel behaviour was corroborated by several factors such as the market conditions being conducive to collusion (limited suppliers who are repetitive bidders, homogenous product and fixed demand), no significant increase in cost of production to justify the sudden increase in the quoted price and representatives of both GSK and Sanofi having visited the Government department’s office on the same date.

The CCI imposed a penalty of 3% of the average turnover which resulted in a penalty of USD 9.4 million (approx.) on GSK and USD 0.4 million (approx.) on Sanofi.

I have kept this post purely factual without giving my views as my firm (including me for a very brief period) acted for Sanofi in this case. However, I will raise a couple of questions which come to mind and may be some food for thought:

  1. Can the fact situation described above amount to parallel behaviour at all?
  2. In the absence of any direct evidence, can the CCI simply prove parallel behaviour and shift the burden on the parties to provide a rational explanation, failing which a finding of collusion is to necessarily flow?
  3. What is the strength of the corroborative evidence relied upon by the CCI in this case?

The full order of the CCI is available athttp://www.cci.gov.in/May2011/OrderOfCommission/27/262013.pdf

Five School Bus Owners Indicted for Bid-Rigging and Fraud Conspiracies at Puerto Rico Public School Bus Auction

A federal grand jury in San Juan, Puerto Rico, returned an indictment against five individuals for participating in bid rigging and fraud conspiracies at an auction for public school bus transportation contracts in Puerto Rico’s Caguas municipality, the Department of Justice announced today.

A seven-count felony indictment was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court of the District of Puerto Rico in San Juan against five bus transportation company owners: Gavino Rivera-Herrera, Luciano Vega-Martínez, Alfonso Gonzales-Nevarez, José L. Arroyo-Quiñones and René Garay-Rodríguez.

Count one charges the bus owners with participating in a conspiracy to rig bids and allocate the market for public school bus transportation services in the Caguas municipality.  The second count charges the bus owners with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and counts three through seven charge the bus owners with committing mail fraud.  According to the indictment, the defendants and others defrauded, and conspired to defraud, the Puerto Rico Department of Education and the Caguas municipality, among others, in order to fraudulently obtain contracts for school bus transportation services.

These charges relate to a 2013 Caguas municipality auction, at which four-year contracts for public school bus transportation were awarded.  The indictment alleges that the defendants participated in the charged offenses from around August 2013 until at least May 2015.

“The defendants are charged with depriving taxpayers, the Municipality of Caguas and the Puerto Rico Department of Education of the benefits of a competitive bidding process for school bus contracts,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “This is unacceptable.  The Division will continue its efforts to protect U.S. citizens across the country and hold accountable those who subvert competition.”

“Today’s case is the latest in our ongoing efforts to investigate and prosecute financial crimes, one of the priorities of the Department of Justice,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico.  “These arrests serve as a reminder that federal law enforcement agencies intend to vigorously prosecute those who manipulate the economic system to enrich themselves at the expense of the government.”

“Price fixing victimizes the consumer which in this case are the honest, hardworking and tax paying citizens living in Puerto Rico,” said Special Agent in Charge Carlos Cases of the FBI’s San Juan Division.  “Let there be no doubt, the FBI, along with law enforcement partners, will continue to investigate, charge and prosecute any individuals involved in these type of acts.”

The bus owners are charged with bid rigging and market allocation in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $1 million criminal fine for individuals.  The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than $1 million.  Each count of mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

This is the first case resulting from an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in Puerto Rico’s school bus transportation services industry.  This investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I Section, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Puerto Rico, the FBI’s Puerto Rico Field Office and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General.  Anyone with information in connection with this investigation is urged to call the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I Section at 202-307-6694, visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html or call the FBI’s Puerto Rico Field Office at 787-754-6000.

MINEBEA CO. LTD. AGREES TO PLEAD GUILTY AND PAY A $13.5 MILLION

WASHINGTON — Minebea Co. Ltd., a small sized bearings manufacturer based in Nagano, Japan, has agreed to plead guilty and to pay a $13.5 million criminal fine for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices for small sized ball bearings sold to customers in the United States and elsewhere, the Department of Justice announced today.

According to a one-count felony charge filed today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in Cincinnati, Minebea conspired to fix the prices of small sized ball bearings in the United States and elsewhere.  In addition to the criminal fine, Minebea has agreed to cooperate in the department’s ongoing investigation.  The plea agreement is subject to court approval.

According to the charge, Minebea and its co-conspirator discussed and agreed upon prices to be submitted to small sized ball bearings customers.  Minebea’s participation in the conspiracy lasted from at least as early as early-to-mid 2008 and continued until at least October 2011.

“Because of the unlawful price-fixing by the defendant and its co-conspirators, American businesses paid more for small-sized bearings than they otherwise would,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “Working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and our other law enforcement partners, the Antitrust Division will continue our efforts to ensure American businesses and consumers benefit from competitive markets.”

“Any agreement that restricts price competition violates the law,” said U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart of Southern District of Ohio.  “We will continue to work to protect consumers’ right to free and open competition.”

Bearings are used in industry in numerous products to reduce friction and help parts roll smoothly past one another; they “bear” the load.  Small sized ball bearings are those ball bearings whose outside diameter is 26 millimeters or less.

Minebea is charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of a $100 million criminal fine for corporations.  The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

The charge today is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the bearings industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Chicago Office and the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office.  Anyone with information on price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct related to the bearings industry should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 1-888-647-3258, visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html, or call the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office at 513-421-4310.

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.

Continental Automotive Electronics and Continental Automotive Korea Agree to Plead Guilty to Bid Rigging on Instrument Panel Clusters

Continental Automotive Electronics LLC and Continental Automotive Korea Ltd. both have agreed to plead guilty and to pay a single criminal fine of $4 million for their roles in a conspiracy to rig bids of instrument panel clusters installed in vehicles manufactured and sold in the United States, the Department of Justice announced today.

According to a one-count felony charge filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Newnan Division, Continental Automotive Electronics LLC, based in Cheongwon, South Korea, and Continental Automotive Korea Ltd., based in Seongnam-si, South Korea, conspired to rig bids for instrument panel clusters sold to Hyundai Motor Co., Kia Motors Corp. and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia in the United States and elsewhere.  In addition to the criminal fine, the companies have agreed to cooperate in the department’s ongoing investigation.  The plea agreement is subject to court approval.

“As the Antitrust Division’s prosecution of auto parts matters like this one demonstrates, we will prosecute those who participate in international cartels targeting U.S. businesses and consumers,” said Brent Snyder, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program.  “The Antitrust Division is working closely with competition enforcers around the world to ensure that companies and executives that engage in international cartel crimes find no refuge.”

The charged companies have acknowledged that they and their co-conspirators held meetings and conversations to discuss and agree upon allocation of sales of instrument panel clusters, and the bids and price quotations each would submit.  The charged companies’ involvement in the conspiracy began as early as March 2004 and continued until May 2012.

Instrument panel clusters are a set of instruments located on the dashboard of a vehicle that contain gauges such as a speedometer, tachometer, odometer, and fuel gauge, as well as warning indicators for gearshift position, seat belt, parking-brake engagement, engine malfunction, low fuel, low oil pressure and low tire pressure.

Including Continental Automotive Electronics LLC and Continental Automotive Korea Ltd., 32 companies and 46 executives have been charged in the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into the automotive parts industry.  Each of the charged companies have either pleaded guilty or have agreed to plead guilty and have agreed to pay more than $2.4 billion in criminal fines.  Of the 46 individuals, 26 have been sentenced to serve time in U.S. prisons.

Continental Automotive Electronics LLC and Continental Automotive Korea Ltd. are charged with bid rigging in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries maximum penalties of a $100 million criminal fine for corporations.  The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

The charges are the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry, which is being conducted by each of the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement sections and the FBI.  Today’s charges were brought by the Antitrust Division’s Chicago Office and the FBI’s Montgomery, Alabama Field Office, with the assistance of the FBI headquarters’ International Corruption Unit.  Anyone with information on price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct related to other products in the automotive parts industry should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 1–888–647–3258, visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html or call the FBI’s Montgomery, Alabama Field Office at 334-263-1691.

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.

Two Executives of Japanese Automotive Parts Manufacturers Indicted for Their Role in a Conspiracy to Fix Prices and Rig Bids

A Kentucky federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment against two executives of Japanese automotive parts manufacturers for their participation in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids of bearings, the Department of Justice announced today.

The indictment, filed late yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in Covington, charges Hiroya Hirose an executive at NSK Ltd., and Masakazu Iwami an executive at Jtekt Corporation, with conspiring to fix the prices of bearings sold to Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc. (collectively, “Toyota”) in the United States and elsewhere, beginning at least as early as 2001 and continuing until as late as July 2011.

“The division will continue to pursue executives who violate the antitrust laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer for the Antitrust Division.  “American consumers deserve the benefit of free competition between auto parts suppliers.”

Hirose was a group sales manager in NSK’s Mid-Japan Automotive Department Office from at least as early as January 2006 until at least 2009, and a general manager in that office from 2009 until at least 2011.  Iwami was a Section Manager, then General Manager, in Jtekt’s Toyota Branch office from at least as early as 1999 until at least October 2007, and then Vice Branch Manager in that office from October 2007 until at least June 2009.

The indictment alleges, among other things, that Hirose, Iwami, and co-conspirators participated in, and directed, authorized, or consented to the participation of subordinate employees in, meetings, conversations, and communications to discuss the bids and price quotations to be submitted to Toyota in the United States and elsewhere.  Hirose, Iwami, and their co-conspirators submitted bids and price quotations in accordance with the agreements reached at these meetings.

NSK is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of Japan with its principal place of business in Tokyo, Japan.  On Oct. 28, 2013, NSK pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $68.2 million criminal fine for its role in the conspiracy.  Jtekt is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of Japan with its registered headquarters in Osaka, Japan.  On Dec. 3, 2013, Jtekt pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $103.27 million criminal fine for its role in the conspiracy.  Both NSK and Jtekt were engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling bearings to Toyota in the United States and elsewhere for installation in vehicles manufactured and sold in the United States and elsewhere.

Including Hirose and Iwami, 46 individuals have been charged in the government’s ongoing investigation into market allocation, price fixing, and bid rigging in the auto parts industry.  Twenty-six of these individuals have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to serve prison terms ranging from a year and one day to two years.  Additionally, 31 companies have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty and have agreed to pay a total of now more than $2.4 billion in fines.

Hirose and Iwami are charged with price fixing and bid rigging in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million criminal fine for individuals.  The maximum fine for an individual may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

Yesterday’s indictment is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry, which is being conducted by four of the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement sections and the FBI.  Today’s charge was brought by the Antitrust Division’s Chicago Office and the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office.  Anyone with information on price fixing, bid rigging, and other anticompetitive conduct related to other products in the automotive parts industry should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 1-888-647-3258, visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html, or call the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office at 513-421-4310.