A real estate investor in Northern California agreed to plead guilty to an elaborate public foreclosure auction scam that robbed homeowners, lenders and real estate investors of legitimate gains, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Court documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California allege Danli Liu of Fremont, Calif., conspired with other investors to subdue auction prices by agreeing not to bid against each other during public foreclosure auctions in Alameda County. The auctions were held from April 2009 through March 2010.

That agreement led to foreclosed homes selling at artificially depressed prices due to a lack of competitive bidding, the DOJ said.

Liu also is accused of using the mail to fraudulently acquire title to the properties, so she could make and receive payoffs. Investigators claim money that should have been returned to lenders and mortgage holders ended up in the hands of conspirators who held second, private auctions later on.
The investigation, which was conducted by the DOJ's San Francisco antitrust division and the FBI's San Francisco bureau, has spawned 25 different plea agreements to date, including Liu's.

The charges are part of an ongoing probe into foreclosure auction scams in the California counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda.