Seventh Mississippi Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Rig Bids at Public Foreclosure Auctions

From:  News Release   7/20/18   GCN

WASHINGTON - Mississippi real estate investor Kimberly Foster became the seventh real estate investor to plead guilty in connection with the ongoing investigation into bid rigging at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Mississippi, the Department of Justice announced.

Felony charges against Foster were filed on June 28, 2018, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.  According to those charges, from at least as early as August 20, 2009 through at least as late as December 14, 2016, Kimberly Foster conspired with others not to bid against one another for selected public real estate foreclosure auctions in the Southern District of Mississippi. Co-conspirators made and received payoffs in exchange for their agreement not to bid.

"The Division remains committed to holding accountable those who violate the antitrust laws, including real estate investors who take advantage of financial distress to line their own pockets," said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahimof the Department of Justice Antitrust Division.  "Today's plea, along with the convictions of well over 100 other individuals who rigged foreclosure auctions all across the country, demonstrates that individual accountability remains a top priority for the Division."

"Participation in illegal price-fixing at public auctions debilitates the economy and causes harm to those involved in the foreclosure process," said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze of the FBI in Mississippi. "Perpetrators who attempt to cheat the free market system will be held accountable for their actions."

The Department stated that the primary purpose of the conspiracy was to suppress and restrain competition in order to obtain selected real estate offered at public foreclosure auctions at non-competitive prices. When real estate properties are sold at these auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with any remaining proceeds paid to the homeowner. According to court documents, these conspirators paid and received money in connection with their agreement to suppress competition, which artificially lowered the price paid at auction for such homes.

A 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 a Sherman Act charge may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime if either amount is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

The investigation is being conducted by Antitrust Division attorneys in the Washington Criminal II Section and the FBI's Gulfport Resident Agency, with the assistance of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact Antitrust Division prosecutors in the Washington Criminal II Section at 202-598-4000, or visit www.justice.gov/atr/report-violations.