Real Estate Exec Pleads Guilty to Foreclosure Auction Bid Rigging
A real estate executive in Stockton, Calif. pled guilty to bid rigging in a scheme to profit off sheriff sale foreclosure auctions. As HousingWire reported over the weekend, Anthony Ghio admitted in his guilty plea that he conspired with a group of real estate speculators who agreed not to bid against each other at certain public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Joaquin County, Calif. in order to suppress and restrain competition and to purchase distressed real estate at non-competitive prices, according to an announcement by the US Attorney for the Eastern District of California and the Department of Justice's antitrust division. According to court documents in the case, from April 2009 to October 2009, after a designated bidder purchased a property at public auction, the conspirators would hold a second auction, bidding among themselves for the property at a price higher than what was paid at auction. That difference between the price at the public auction and that at the second auction was the group's illicit profit, and it was divided among the conspirators in payoffs, officials said. Bid rigging is a violation of the Sherman Act and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1m fine. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victim of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater. The allegations against Ghio are part of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation of fraud and bidding irregularities in real estate auctions in San Joaquin County conducted by the US Attorney’s office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office. It is conducted under the directive of the Obama Administration’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, an interagency task force focused on prosecuting financial crimes. One segment of the task force is the national Mortgage Fraud Working Group. Write to Austin Kilgore.