Mark Roemer and Bradley Roemer, two Northern California real estate investors, have agreed to plead guilty for their role in bid rigging and fraud conspiracies at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California.
Felony charges were filed in U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California in Oakland against the defendants. To date, 54 individuals have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging and fraud at public foreclosure auctions in Northern California. In addition, 20 other real estate investors have been charged in five multi-count indictments for their roles in bid rigging and fraud schemes at foreclosure auctions in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.
According to court documents, beginning as early as December 2009 and continuing until about November 2010, the defendants conspired with others not to bid against one another, and instead to designate a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Alameda County. Both defendants were also charged with conspiring to use the mail to carry out a scheme to fraudulently acquire title to selected Alameda County properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs, and to divert money to co-conspirators that would have otherwise gone to mortgage holders and other beneficiaries by holding second, private auctions open only to members of the conspiracy. Selected properties were then awarded to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids in the second, private auctions. The private auctions often took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held.
Each violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. The maximum fine for the Sherman Act charges may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims if either amount is greater than $1 million. A count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The government can also seek to forfeit the proceeds earned from participating in the conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
The Department of Justice announced the guilty pleas.
The charges are the latest filed by the department in its ongoing investigation into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties in California. These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Office.
“Cynical investors who rig real estate foreclosure auctions will be held accountable for their crimes,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “Winning auctions through fraud injures consumers and mortgage lenders by circumventing the competitive process that the antitrust laws are intended to protect.”
“These charges demonstrate our continued commitment to investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations responsible for the corruption of the public foreclosure auction process,” said Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office. “The FBI is committed to working these important cases and remains unwavering in our dedication to bringing the members of these illegal conspiracies to justice.”