WASHINGTON — A federal grand jury in San Francisco returned an eight-count indictment against five real estate investors for their role in bid rigging and fraud schemes 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 San Francisco, California, charges Northern California real estate investors Joseph Giraudo, Raymond Grinsell, Kevin Cullinane, James Appenrodt and Abraham Farag with participating in conspiracies to rig bids and schemes to defraud mortgage holders and others. The indictment alleges that the defendants agreed to stop bidding or to refrain from bidding for properties at public foreclosure auctions in San Mateo County, California, in return for payoffs and concealing the fact that monies were diverted from mortgage holders, homeowners and others to co-schemers. Additionally, Giraudo, Grinsell and Appenrodt were charged with bid rigging and fraud in San Francisco County, California. To date, 47 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.
“These defendants corrupted the public foreclosure auctions in San Mateo and San Francisco counties, and they did so to line their pockets with money that rightfully belonged to mortgage holders and others,” said Brent Snyder, Deputy Assistant Attorney for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program. “As these charges demonstrate, the Antitrust Division will continue to pursue bidders at foreclosure auctions who violated the Sherman Act and defrauded mortgage holders and others.”
The indictment alleges, among other things, that beginning no later than August 2008 and continuing until January 2011, the defendants conspired to rig bids to obtain numerous properties sold at foreclosure auctions in San Mateo and San Francisco counties, paid others not to bid, accepted payoffs not to bid and, in the process, defrauded mortgage holders, other holders of debt secured by the auctioned properties and, in some cases, the defaulting homeowners.
“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 victim 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.
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, 93 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. 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.