CCC’s: Bumble Bee CEO Indicted for Price Fixing

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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.

CCC’s: Was Heir Locators Indictment a Hair Too Late?

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Below is a post that I wrote with a friend and former Antitrust Division colleague, Karen Sharp.  The post originally appeared in Law 360 Competition (here). I am reposting for those that don’t have access to the article.

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Was Heir Locators Indictment a Hair Too Late?

by Robert Connolly and Karen Sharp[1]

            On August 17, 2016, a Utah grand jury returned a one count Sherman Act indictment against Kemp & Associates, Inc. and Daniel J. Mannix,[2] a Kemp corporate officer.  According to the indictment, the conspiracy was an agreement to “allocate customers of Heir Location Services sold in the United States” that began as early as September 1999 and continued as late as January 29, 2014.

Heir location service companies identify heirs to estates of intestate decedents and, in exchange for a contingency fee, develop evidence and prove heirs’ claims to an inheritance in probate court.  The indictment charged that there was an allocation scheme whereby the defendants agreed with a competing heir location service company that the first company to contact an heir would be allocated certain remaining heirs to the estate and, in return, would pay the other company a portion of the collusive contingency fees collected from the heirs.

In pretrial orders issued last August, U.S. District Court Judge David Sam, 1) dismissed the indictment as time barred by the five-year statute of limitations; and 2) held that if there were a trial, the agreement would not be considered per se, but instead judged by the jury under the Rule of Reason.  The Antitrust Division is challenging both rulings on appeal in the Tenth Circuit.  In this article we discuss the court’s ruling that the indictment was time barred by the statute of limitations.

A full exposition of the facts can be found in the indictment,[3] Judge Sam’s Memorandum Decision and Order[4], the government’s opening brief in the Tenth Circuit,[5] and the defendants’ response.[6]  But in short, the relevant facts are these:

  • There was a written allocation agreement between competing heir location service companies to divide certain customers.
  • On July 30, 2008, defendant Mannix wrote to Kemp & Associates colleagues in an email: “The ‘formal’ agreement that we have had with [Blake & Blake] for the last decade is over.”
  • There were in fact no other heirs allocated after July 30, 2008.
  • Payments made by previously allocated customers, however, occurred within the Sherman Act five-year statute of limitations period preceding the indictment.

The government argues on appeal that the conspiracy did not end on July 30, 2008 when the agreement was abandoned but continued based on the “payments theory.” The payments theory is straightforward: conspirators rig bids, fix prices and/or allocate customers to reap the higher prices that come from eliminating/restraining competition.  As long as a conspirator is being paid as a result of the illegal agreement, the conspiracy continues.

The government has the weight of authority and specifically, Tenth Circuit precedent, on its side.  The government argues on appeal that Judge Sam “mistakenly concluded that the alleged conspiracy ended after the last customers were allocated, rather than continuing as long as the conspirators collected and distributed payments from the contracts with the allocated customers.”  The indictment specifically alleged that as part of the customer allocation conspiracy, the defendants “accepted payment for Heir Location Services sold to heirs in the United States at collusive and noncompetitive contingency fee rates.”  The indictment alleges that the conspiracy continued at least as late as January 29, 2014, which is the date when, according to the defendants’ motion to dismiss the indictment, “a large team of law enforcement agents and prosecutors served subpoenas on, and sought to interview, many of the Company’s employees.”

The payments theory is well accepted, including in the Tenth Circuit.  United States v. Evans & Associates Construction Co.[7] was a bid-rigging case where the contract was rigged outside the statute of limitations, but the defendant received payments for the work done on the contract within the statute period.  The Tenth Circuit in Evans concluded that “the statute did not begin to run until after the successful contractor accepted the last payment on the contract.”[8] According to the court, “the Sherman Act violation was ‘accomplished both by the submission of noncompetitive bids and by the request for and receipt of payments at anti-competitive levels.’”[9] Similarly, in the more recent case of United States v. Morgan, the Tenth Circuit held that “the distribution of the proceeds of a conspiracy is an act occurring during the pendency of the conspiracy.”[10]

Judge Sam did not agree that the indictment before him alleged a conspiracy that would properly invoke the payments theory.  He concluded that the primary purpose of the anticompetitive agreement was the allocation of customers.  According to Judge Sam, “[i]t then follows that any conspiratorial agreement ceased to exist once the allocation of customers through the [agreed-upon] Guidelines ceased.”  Judge Sam distinguished the heir locators’ agreement from the bid-rigging agreement in Evans, stating, “[T]he evidence in Evans and Morgan shows that the central purpose of the conspiracy was to obtain wrongful proceeds or money.  While the Indictment here mentions the payment of proceeds, Ind. ¶¶ 11 (h), (i), the central purpose of the conspiracy charged was not ‘economic enrichment.’” Judge Sam found, without even a hearing or trial, that the “central purpose” of the heir locators’ allocation agreement was not “economic enrichment.”  The statute of limitations, therefore, expired on July 30, 2013, five years after defendant Mannix sent an internal Kemp & Associates email abandoning the allocation agreement.

In our opinion the judge was grasping at straws to distinguish (and extinguish) this case from Evans to avoid application of the payments theory.  Payments by allocated heir locator customers seem like payments made on rigged contracts.  Since the judge also found this to be a Rule of Reason case, he apparently felt that the agreement on balance was procompetitive–and not designed to generate supra competitive profits.  The court’s logic seems to be a real-life application of the “bad facts make bad law” principle.  But, there was simply no record on which to base a finding that the payments made and accepted by defendants and their co-conspirators within the statute were merely administrative tasks that “bore no relation to customer allocation.”

A Better Way to Judge The Validity of Using a Payments Theory To Extend the Statute

  1. The Judicial Concern with Prosecutorial Delay

            Judge Sam was clearly troubled by the fact that the defendants were indicted in August 2016, several years after the five-year statute of limitations would have appeared to have run on an agreement that was abandoned in July 2008.  Moreover, since there was no fixed time when an estate distribution would be finalized, there was no telling when the statute of limitations would begin to run in this type of case. The court noted:

“Additionally, the government has identified 269 allegedly affected estates, the administration of which consisted of a series of ordinary, non-criminal events that could last many years. In contrast, Evans involved the bid for one contract which was bid, granted, completed and fully paid within the two years. [citation omitted] . . .. This arbitrariness is not consistent with the very reasons limitations periods exist in criminal cases.”

In bid-rigging cases, the outer limits of the statute of limitations is at least defined by the length of the contract.  But here, as the court noted, the payments theory could extend the statute of limitations for an unknown, and possibly very long time.

2.    The “Payments Theory” as a Due Process Violation

A more direct and fair method to address the concern that Judge Sam and other courts may have with an indefinite extension of a statute of limitations is to consider the application of the payments theory as a possible violation of due process.  Does extending the statute of limitations for an indefinite and arbitrary period deprive the defendants of due process?

The Supreme Court has recognized that prosecutorial delay may constitute a due process violation but has set an extremely high bar for a would-be successful defendant.  In United States v. Marion,[11] the Court held that in order for the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to require dismissal of an indictment the defendant must show that the pre-indictment delay:

1)         caused substantial prejudice to the defendant’s rights to a fair trial; and

2)         that the delay was an intentional device to gain tactical advantage over the accused.[12]

There is a critical difference, however, between the facts in Marion and the heir location services case.  In Marion there was a three-year delay between the commission of the crime and the charged case.  The defendants alleged this delay was a prejudicial due process violation.  But, the case was still brought within the statute of limitations.  However, where, as here, the application of a payments theory leads to an arbitrary and indefinite extension of the statutorily set limitations period, Marion can be distinguished.  We suggest it would be appropriate to apply a different/lesser test in this case.  The near-impossible-to-meet prong of showing that the prosecution intentionally engaged in delay tactics to gain an advantage should be dropped.  Instead, the defendants should be required to make the Marion showing of substantial prejudice suffered by the application of the payments theory. A showing of substantial prejudice would require for example a witness’ death or illness, loss of physical evidence, or a witness who was once available is now not available; i.e., something more than a general allegation that memories fade with time.

Another aspect of due process that can arise in payments theory cases, and may be what really troubles courts, is that an individual who is the subject or target of a criminal antitrust investigation is often without a job and can find it difficult to get one while possible legal charges hang over his or her head.  A company may also suffer negative financial consequences while a “cloud of suspicion” from a grand jury investigation lingers.  Being a subject/target of an antitrust criminal investigation is an incredibly stressful and expensive ordeal.  If this status is going to continue, perhaps indefinitely, past the traditional statute of limitations, there should be a very good reason.  Depending on the circumstance, a judge, like Judge Sam, may find that the delay in bringing a case was a due process violation of the defendants’ property rights—the right to earn a living.

We also suggest, however, that if the defendant can make a showing of substantial prejudice, the government should have the opportunity to explain why there was a need to resort to a payments theory. Was the crime or industry investigated very complex?  Did the subjects themselves stonewall the investigation and cause delays?  Did the defendants successfully conceal the conspiracy until very near the typical running of the statute?  If the government has a satisfactory explanation of why it has resorted to the payments theory, and especially if the defendant’s conduct during the investigation contributed to the delay, then the court should find no due process violation.

The due process analysis we are suggesting is, of course, a deviation from the two-step test the Supreme Court established in Marion, but it is based on a valid distinction from Marion—but for the payments theory, the heir locators’ indictment is barred.  A balancing of the prejudice to the defendant versus the government’s need to use the payments theory, is a more appropriate way for a court to decide whether a case is time-barred than by finding that the ultimate goal of a customer allocation scheme was not economic enrichment.

Some Thoughts on the Case as Former Prosecutors

            Another benefit of a due process analysis is that it would help explain why the government brought a case that is facially so far out of the statute of limitations.  One might conclude, and perhaps Judge Sam did, that the government was simply negligent, and the defendants should not bear the cost of that negligence. After all, the allocation agreement itself was in the form of written “Guidelines,” and the directive ending the “formal” agreement was in a July 2008 email.  The defendants further allege that two disgruntled former Kemp & Associates employees (and potential witnesses) first approached the Antitrust Division in 2008 or 2009.  By all appearances, this seems like a relatively easy conspiracy to “uncover” and prove, so why did the Antitrust Division wait until it had to rely on a payments theory to bring an indictment?

As former prosecutors we can speculate—and it is just speculation– as to why the case was brought using a payments theory to extend the statute.  One possibility that comes to mind is that the government believes that the conspiracy was not abandoned in July 2008.  Perhaps the government has evidence that additional customers were allocated after July 2008 and that the conspiracy in fact continued until the date the defendants received the subpoenas.  Was the Mannix email withdrawing from the conspiracy just a cover and the allocation actually continued “underground?” The government may simply have found it expedient to go with the payments theory rather than disprove the withdrawal email beyond a reasonable doubt.  This, of course, is just speculation–there may be other valid reasons why a payments theory was necessary.  But, often the public facts do not tell the entire story. The Antitrust Division brought a case that appeared to be a straightforward per se customer allocation agreement and used the well accepted payments theory to bring the case within the statute of limitations.  Without a trial or a record of any sort, there is no way to tell whether this was a sound exercise of prosecutorial discretion or not.[13]

The Tenth Circuit may reverse Judge Sam on the statute of limitations issue, in which case the rule of reason versus per se issue will take center stage. Or the appeals court may agree with Judge Sam and limit the payments theory to situations, like Evans, where there is a fixed contract performance time that limits the payments theory extension of the statute of limitations.  But, even in this situation, contracts typically have delays, so the idea of a “fixed contract time” may be somewhat illusory.  While it is not the law currently, our suggestion is that rather than have courts chip away at the legally sound payments theory based on dubious distinctions, defendants should challenge, and courts should assess the fairness of, the government’s use of the payments theory on the basis of due process; i.e., balancing the harm to the defendants against the justification offered by the government for relying on this theory to extend the statute.

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[1] Bob Connolly is a partner with GeyerGorey LLP.  He is the former chief of the Antitrust Division’s Philadelphia Field Office and served for 34 years in the Antitrust Division. He publishes a blog, Cartel Capers.

Karen Sharp is a former trial attorney with the DOJ Antitrust Division, where she investigated and prosecuted national and international antitrust matters for 25 years. She also served as a special assistant United States attorney in the Eastern District of California. Most recently she was counsel for Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in San Francisco.  Ms. Sharp can be reached at Sharpkj100@gmail.com.

[2] United States v. Kemp & Associates, Inc., et al., No. 2:16-cr-00403 (D. Utah Aug. 17, 2016) (David Sam J.)16-

[3]   The indictment can be found on the Antitrust Division’s website at https://www.justice.gov/atr/file/887761/download.

[4]  Judge Sam’s memorandum opinion is linked at Law 360, Aug. 29, 2017, Antitrust Charges Against Heir-Tracker Co. Dismissed, available at https://www.law360.com/articles/958574/doj-antitrust-charges-against-heir-tracker-co-dismissed. It can also be found here JudgeSamSOLOrderandMemorandum.

[5]   Opening Brief for the United States, (corrected) (filed January 3, 2018), available at https://www.justice.gov/atr/case-document/file/1020466/download.

[6]  The defendants’ brief is linked at Law 360, February 5, 2018, Heir-Tracking Firm Urges 10th Circ. to Refuse Antitrust Case, available at https://www.law360.com/competition/articles/1009042/heir-tracking-co-urges-10th-circ-to-refuse-antitrust-case.  It can also be found here defendants’ kemp-brief.

[7]   United States v. Evans & Associates Construction Co., 839 F.2d 656 (10th Cir. 1988).

[8]   Id. at 661.

[9]   Id. (quoting United States v. Northern Improvement Co., 814 F.2d 540 (8th Cir. 1987)).

[10]  United States v. Morgan, 748 F.3d 1024, 1036-37 (10th Cir. 2014).

[11]  United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307 (1971).

[12]  Id. at 324.

[13] The Antitrust Division already had a significant setback on the “payments theory” in United States v. Grimm, 738 F.3d 498 (2d Cir. 2013), a case where the jury returned guilty verdicts for fixing of municipal bonds.  The last bond fixed was outside the five-year statute of limitations, but payments on the fixed bonds could extend over the life of the bonds—up to thirty years.  The Second Circuit could not accept this extreme extension of the statute of limitations and reversed the convictions ruling that a “[criminal] conspiracy ends notwithstanding the [later] receipt of anticipated profits where the payoff merely consists of a lengthy, indefinite series of ordinary, typically noncriminal, unilateral actions.” Id. at 502 (quotation marks, ellipses, and brackets omitted).

Roofing Company Owner and Former Facilities Manager at Sierra Army Depot Indicted for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States

Friday, October 20, 2017

Government Seeks Forfeiture of Proceeds Resulting From Conspiracy

A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of California returned an indictment yesterday against two individuals for allegedly conspiring to defraud the United States, the Department of Justice announced.

The indictment alleges that Kenneth Keyes, a former facility manager at Sierra Army Depot (SIAD), and Leroy Weber, the owner of a roofing company, participated in a conspiracy to defraud the United States from as early as February 2012, and continuing through at least July 23, 2013, by obstructing the lawful functions of the United States Army through deceitful or dishonest means.

“Yesterday’s indictment demonstrates the Antitrust Division’s commitment to pursuing individuals who seek to enrich themselves by misusing federal programs at the expense of taxpayers,” said Assistant Attorney Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

SIAD is a United States Army facility located in Northern California.  In 2012, SIAD earmarked $40 million for construction and renovation projects at its site using contractors who qualified under the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Development Program.  The program provides assistance and benefits to small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

The indictment alleges that Keyes, Weber, and other unidentified co-conspirators:

  • Recruited eligible 8(a) contractors to work as primary contractors at SIAD;
  • Represented to those contractors that Weber controlled the work and allocation of SIAD contract awards;
  • Caused prime contracts to be assigned to selected 8(a) contractors;
  • Used proprietary government pricing information to inflate contract prices for the SIAD contracts;
  • Required selected 8(a) contractors to award work to companies owned or controlled by Weber; and
  • Required a contractor to pay Weber in exchange for being awarded certain subcontracts by 8(a) contractors.

The indictment also alleges that Weber caused a company under his control to issue weekly paychecks to a relative of Keyes, and himself caused $10,000 to be paid directly to Keyes.

The purpose of this conspiracy was to enable Keyes and Weber to unjustly enrich themselves and their family members by diverting government funds intended to rebuild and repair the SIAD Army facility to themselves and their companies.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Weber and Keyes each face a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The charges are the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation handled by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office with assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, and the General Services Administration Office of Inspector General.  Anyone with information concerning the conspiracy should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office at 415-934-5300.

Leading Electrolytic Capacitor Manufacturer Indicted for Price Fixing

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Nippon Chemi-Con Is Eighth Company Charged in Long-Running Conspiracy

A federal grand jury returned an indictment against an electrolytic capacitor manufacturer for participating in a conspiracy to fix prices for electrolytic capacitors sold to customers in the United States and elsewhere, the Department of Justice announced today.

The indictment, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, charges that Nippon Chemi-Con Corporation, based in Japan, conspired to suppress and eliminate competition for electrolytic capacitors from as early as September 1997 until January 2014.  Three current Nippon Chemi-Con executives, and one former Nippon Chemi-Con executive, were previously indicted for their participation in the conspiracy: Takuro Isawa, Takeshi Matsuzaka, Yasutoshi Ohno, and Kaname Takahashi.

“Today’s indictment affirms the Antitrust Division’s commitment to holding companies accountable for conspiring to cheat American consumers,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “The Division will prosecute companies—no matter where they are located—that violate U.S. antitrust laws.”

According to the one-count felony charge, Nippon Chemi-Con carried out the conspiracy by agreeing with co-conspirators to fix prices of electrolytic capacitors during meetings and other communications.  Capacitors were then sold in accordance with these agreements.  As part of the conspiracy, Nippon Chemi-Con 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.

As a result of the government’s ongoing investigation, eight companies and ten individuals have been charged with participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of electrolytic capacitors.  Electrolytic capacitors store and regulate electrical current in a variety of electronic products, including computers, televisions, car engines and airbag systems, home appliances, and office equipment.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Today’s charge results from ongoing federal antitrust investigations being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the capacitor industry.  Anyone with information related to the focus of this investigation should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 1-888-647-3258, visit https://www.justice.gov/atr/report-violations, or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Bid Rigging in Northern California Public Foreclosure Auctions

Friday, October 6, 2017

Investigations Have Yielded 63 Plea Agreements to Date

A real estate investor pleaded guilty for his role in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

Jim Appenrodt pleaded guilty to two counts of bid rigging in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. Appenrodt was charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on October 22, 2014.

According to court documents, Appenrodt participated in a conspiracy to rig bids by agreeing to refrain from bidding against other coconspirators at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco County and San Mateo County from as early as August 2008 until January 2011.

“The Antitrust Division has prosecuted scores of real estate investors who, for their own benefit and profit, conspired to corrupt the bidding process at foreclosure auctions,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the Division’s continued commitment to bringing to justice the individuals who committed these crimes.”

Today’s guilty plea is the result of the Department’s ongoing investigation into bid rigging at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, California. To date, 63 individuals have agreed to plead or have pleaded guilty.

These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to 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.

Real Estate Investor Sentenced to 14 Months in Prison for Rigging Bids at Northern California Public Foreclosure Auctions

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

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

Brian McKinzie was charged on June 30, 2011, in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of California. McKinzie pleaded guilty on Oct. 26, 2016, to two counts of bid rigging at real-estate foreclosure auctions in Alameda and Contra Costa County. Today, McKinzie was sentenced to serve 14 months in prison and to serve three years of supervised release. In addition to his term of imprisonment, McKinzie was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $10,000 and $652,824.43 in restitution.

“Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of offenses that subvert the competitive process,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “The Division remains firm in its resolve to seek prison terms for individuals who commit antitrust crimes.”  

Between November 2008 and January 2011, McKinzie and other bidders at the auctions conspired not to bid against one another for selected properties, instead designating a winning bidder to win the property at the auction. The members of the conspiracy then held second, private auctions, known as “rounds,” to award the properties to members of the conspiracy and determine payoffs for other conspirators who had agreed not to bid against each other at the public auctions. The private auctions often took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held.

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, if any, paid to the homeowner.

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

Seventh Company Agrees to Plead Guilty for Fixing Prices of Electrolytic Capacitors

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Nichicon Has Agreed to Pay $42 Million Criminal Fine

Nichicon Corporation will plead guilty for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices for electrolytic capacitors sold to customers in the United States and elsewhere, the Department of Justice announced today.

According to the one-count felony charge filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Nichicon conspired with others to suppress and eliminate competition for electrolytic capacitors from as early as November 2001 until December 2011. In addition to pleading guilty, Nichicon has agreed to pay a $42 million criminal fine and cooperate with the Antitrust Division’s ongoing investigation. The plea agreement is subject to court approval.

“Including today’s charge, the Antitrust Division has now charged seven companies and ten individuals for participating in a long-running conspiracy to fix the price of a critical component in electronic devices used by millions of American consumers,” said Director of Criminal Enforcement Marvin Price of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “But our investigation is not over. We are continuing to pursue the companies and executives who conspired to undermine competition in this vital industry.”

Electrolytic capacitors store and regulate electrical current in a variety of electronic products, including computers, televisions, car engines and airbag systems, home appliances and office equipment.

Today’s charge results from ongoing federal antitrust investigations being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the capacitor industry. Anyone with information related to the focus of this investigation should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258, visit https://www.justice.gov/atr/report-violations, or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Northern California real estate investor pleaded guilty yesterday for his role in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

California real estate investor Ramin Rad “Ray” Yeganeh pleaded guilty to one count of bid rigging in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland.  He was charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of California on June 25, 2015.

According to court documents, as early as September 2008 and continuing until in or about January 2011, Yeganeh conspired with others not to bid against one another, instead designating a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Alameda County.  The selected properties were then awarded to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids in second, private auctions.  The private auctions often took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held.

The Department determined that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and eliminate competition in order to obtain selected real estate offered at Alameda County public foreclosure auctions at noncompetitive 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.

The guilty plea entered yesterday was the result of the Department’s ongoing investigation into bid rigging at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, California. To date, 60 individuals have agreed to plead or have pleaded guilty.

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 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.

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.