Three Northern California real estate investors agreed to plead guilty to forming a conspiracy to rig bids at foreclosure auctions, the Department of Justice Financial Fraud Enforcement Division said Thursday.
Charges were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Barry Heisner of Brentwood, Calif.; Dominic Leung of Alameda, Calif.; and Hilton Wong of San Ramon, Calif.
The investigation into auction bid-rigging in North California has resulted in 20 plea agreements thus far.
The Department of Justice says the three defendants conspired with others to obtain favorable auction selling prices by agreeing not to bid against each other in certain circumstances and by selecting a winning bidder for each auction item in advance. Authorities say the defendants carried out these activities at various real estate auctions, spanning from August 2008 to January 2011.
Authorities claim Heisner, Leung and Wong also committed mail fraud by fraudulently acquiring title to properties sold at public auctions and then by holding second, private auctions open only to members of the conspiracy. The properties selected were then given to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids.
Some of the violations related to the uncompetitive practices are breaches of the Sherman Act, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Each count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
The FBI and the antitrust division have been working on California auction rigging cases for the past year. In October, two real estate investors pleaded guilty to bid rigging in the counties of Contra Costa and Alameda.