Five Individuals Indicted for Bid Rigging

 

Written on by Daryl

SACRAMENTO, CA-The U.S. District Court in Sacramento these days unsealed an indictment against 4 real estate investors and an auctioneer for their participation in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions held in San Joaquin County, Ca, Sharis A. Pozen, Acting Assistant Attorney Common with the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, and Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, announced.

The indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury in Sacramento on Dec. 7, 2011, charges actual estate investors Wiley C. Chandler, Andrew B. Katakis, Donald M. Parker and Anthony B. Joachim, and auctioneer W. Theodore Longley with conspiring with other unnamed co-conspirators to rig bids and commit mail fraud when purchasing selected properties at public actual estate foreclosure auctions. The indictment also charges Longley with aiding and abetting the conspirators.

Based on the indictment, Chandler, Katakis, Parker, Joachim, Longley and co-conspirators agreed to suppress and restrain competition by rigging bids to acquire selected properties offered at public auctions in San Joaquin County, Calif. The conspirators also devised a scheme to fraudulently acquire titles to selected properties sold in the public auctions and to divert cash to co-conspirators that would have gone to the beneficiaries. The indictment alleges that the conspiracy lasted from a minimum of September 2008 until at least October 2009.

“The ongoing investigation demonstrates the Antitrust Division’s resolve to quit conspiracies that suppress competition at real estate foreclosure auctions.” said Acting Assistant Attorney Common Pozen. “The division will continue to function with our law enforcement partners to investigate bid-rigging conspiracies in real estate foreclosure auctions within the Sacramento area and northern California.”

“The indictment unsealed today alleges that the defendants engaged in conspiracy, deceit, and heavy-handed tactics to make the most of a depressed housing marketplace,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “This indictment follows a lengthy investigation and a series of guilty pleas by other participants in this activity. But our function isn’t done. Anticompetitive practices in actual estate foreclosure auctions not only harm financial institutions, but drive down house values for other homeowners throughout the region. My office will continue to investigate and prosecute such conduct.”

According to the court documents, following the conspirators’ designated bidder purchased a property at a public auction, they would hold a second, private auction, at which each participating conspirator would bid the amount above the public auction cost he or she was willing to spend. The conspirator who bid the highest amount at the end of the private auction won the property. The distinction between the cost at the public auction and that at the second auction was the group’s illicit profit, and it was divided amongst the conspirators in payoffs.

To date, eight people have pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in connection with the investigation: Anthony B. Ghio, John R. Vanzetti, Theodore B. Hutz, Richard W. Northcutt, Yama Marifat, Gregory L. Jackson, Walter Daniel Olmstead and Robert Rose. Additionally to those that have pleaded guilty, on Nov. 22, 2011, Kenneth A. Swanger was charged with participating in bid-rigging conspiracies at public actual estate foreclosure auctions.

Chandler, Katakis, Parker, Joachim and Longley are charged with bid rigging, a violation with the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The maximum fine may be elevated 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. They are also charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison along with a $1 million fine.

These charges arose from an ongoing federal antitrust investigation of fraud and bidding irregularities in certain real estate auctions in San Joaquin County. The investigation is becoming conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, the FBI’s Sacramento Division and also the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Workplace. Trial attorneys Anna Pletcher, Richard Cohen and Tai Milder from the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg are prosecuting the case.

Today’s charges are part of efforts underway by President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Job Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute monetary crimes. The job force consists of representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and nearby law enforcement who, operating together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The job force is operating to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and nearby partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, make sure just and efficient punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of monetary crimes. One component with the job force is the national Mortgage Fraud Working Group, co-chaired by U.S. Attorney Wagner. For more information on the job force, visit www.StopFraud.gov.

Anyone with information regarding bid rigging or fraud associated to real estate foreclosure auctions should get in touch with the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office at 415-436-6660, visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm, get in touch with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California at 916-554-2700 or get in touch with the FBI’s Sacramento Division at 916-481-9110.