Sixth person pleads guilty in foreclosure auction rigging conspiracy
One man joined five of his former co-conspirators and pleaded guilty to rigging bids and committing mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Joaquin, Calif. Gregory Jackson and a group of real estate speculators had an agreement not to bid against each other at certain real estate auctions to decrease competition and obtain selected properties in San Joaquin County at noncompetitive prices, according to the Antitrust Division of the Golden State's Department of Justice. Court documents show the conspirators' would hold a second, private auction on properties that their designated bidder originally purchased at a public auction. At the private auction, the group would bid at amounts above the public auction price. The highest bidder would win the property and the rest of the investors would split the difference between the private and public auction price among themselves as illicit profit, according to court documents. Jackson participated in the scheme from March to October 2009, according to his plea. The maximum penalty for his crime is 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. HousingWire reported in February that Richard Northcutt pleaded guilty in conjunction with the bid rigging conspiracy. Anthony Ghio, John Vanzetti, Theodore Hutz and Yama Marifat also pleaded guilty in this case. Northcutt faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Christina Varney, assistant attorney general of the California Justice Department's Antitrust Division, said the rigging of public foreclosure auctions is something the state is cracking down on. "Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the antitrust division's commitment to vigorously pursue and prosecute bid rigging conspiracies in real estate foreclosure auctions that harm competition," Varney said. "Public auctions are designed to determine the fair market value in the housing market, and they play a pivotal role in protecting its integrity," added U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, who dealt with the case. "These defendants manipulated the system for their own gain; their conduct was serious and prosecution is necessary." Charges against Jackson and his conspirators arose from an ongoing federal investigation of fraud and bidding irregularities in real estate auctions in San Joaquin County. All individuals involved in the conspiracy are scheduled for sentencing on June 3. However, because of the ongoing nature of the investigation, a court representative said the sentencing date most likely will reset once all parties have reached a plea agreement. The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Sacramento Division and the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division on California. Write to Christine Ricciardi. Follow her on Twitter @HWnewbieCR.