A California man pleaded guilty yesterday to rigging bids at public foreclosure auctions.
According to court documents filed in Sacramento, Yama Marifat was indicted for conspiring with other real estate investors to rig bids when purchasing selected properties at foreclosure auctions in San Joaquin County, California, beginning in or about April 2009 and continuing until in or about October 2009. Trial was scheduled to begin on August 17.
“Real estate investors who take advantage of the foreclosure process to line their own pockets will be held accountable,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Powers of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “The defendant’s guilty plea is a testament to our persistence and the strong case built by the division’s talented prosecutors, paralegals and staff, along with our partners at the FBI.”
According to the one-count indictment, Marifat and his co-conspirators carried out the conspiracy by agreeing not to bid against each other on selected properties. Instead, they designated one co-conspirator to bid at the public auction, then held a second, private auction and made payoffs to one another.
“Real estate fraud had devastating impact on the regional economy during the previous recession,” said Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office. “This case exemplifies the FBI’s commitment to working with our local, state and federal partners to identify and investigate crimes that impact the communities we serve to ensure no crime goes unpunished, and public trust in our financial and real estate systems is maintained.”
Marifat is the 11th individual to plead guilty in the investigation of fraud and bid rigging at real estate auctions in San Joaquin County. Including Marifat, the division’s efforts to prosecute bid rigging and fraud at real estate foreclosure auctions in regions across the country have resulted in charges against 140 individuals, including 124 guilty pleas and 12 individuals convicted at trial.
A criminal violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $1 million criminal fine. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office is prosecuting the case, which was investigated with the assistance of the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office. Anyone with information in connection with this investigation should contact the Antitrust Division’s Complaint Center at 888-647-3258, or visit http://www.justice.gov/atr/report-violations.