Four real estate investors pleaded guilty to partaking in a bid-rigging scheme at a Northern California public real estate foreclosure auction.

Felony charges were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland against Wesley Barta, Irma Galvez, Stan Kahan and Joseph Vesce, the Department of Justice announced. 

"These conspirators manipulated and suppressed the competitive process through their fraudulent and collusive conduct to the detriment of lenders and distressed homeowners," said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer, who leads the Department of Justice Antitrust Division.

He added, "The Antitrust Division will continue to pursue those responsible for these illegal activities."

Between June 2008 and Jan. 2011, the real estate investors conspired not to bid against one another, but instead designated a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions, the Department of Justice said.

They also tried to use the mail to carry out a scheme to fraudulently acquire title to selected properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs and to divert money to co-conspirators that would have gone to mortgage holders.

"The continued success of our investigation into the bid rigging conspiracies at Northern California public foreclosure auctions is evident in today’s four guilty pleas," said David Johnson, a special agent with the FBI field office in San Francisco. 

He concluded, "The FBI will remain focused with the Antitrust Division in holding those accountable for such illegal acts."