Mississippi Real Estate Investors Plead Guilty to Conspiring to Rig Bids at Public Foreclosure Auctions

From:  News Release   4/11/18   GCN

WASHINGTON – Real estate investors Kevin Moore, Chad Nichols, and Terry Tolar pleaded guilty today for their roles in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Mississippi, the Department of Justice announced.

Including Moore, Nichols, and Tolar, five real estate investors have pleaded guilty in this conspiracy. Separate felony charges against Moore, Nichols, and Tolar were filed on April 3, 2018, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

“Today’s guilty pleas send a strong signal that the Division will prosecute and hold accountable those who conspire to corrupt the competitive process and harm the American consumer,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “We extend our thanks to our law enforcement partners, with whom we will continue to investigate bid-rigging crimes in Mississippi—and throughout the United States.”

“Individuals who harm homeowners and defraud companies by cheating our foreclosure system to enrich themselves will face swift and certain criminal prosecution in Mississippi,” said United States Attorney D. Michael Hurst, Jr. for the Southern District of Mississippi. “I applaud the FBI and the Antitrust Division for their tenacity and perseverance in pursuing these criminal actions and shutting this illegal scheme down.”

“Violations of the Sherman Act not only impact America’s financial institutions and distressed homeowners but also damage our free market society as a whole,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze of the FBI in Mississippi. “We hope that others participating in this type of corruption understand that the FBI and Department of Justice will continue to protect Americans from price fixing and bid rigging that harm our economy.”

According to court documents, from at least as early as January 12, 2012, through at least as late as April 19, 2017, Moore conspired with others to rig bids, designating a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions in the Southern District of Mississippi. Nichols participated in the conspiracy from as early as April 14, 2010, through as late as February 25, 2015, and Tolar’s participation began as early as January 12, 2012, through as late as March 31, 2017. Co-conspirators made and received payoffs in exchange for their agreement not to bid.

The Department said 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 the Antitrust Division’s 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 https://www.justice.gov/atr/report-violations.