Two Mississippi real estate investors pleaded guilty Thursday for their roles in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.
“Shannon and Jason Boykin are the first two defendants to plead guilty in the Antitrust Division’s active, ongoing investigation into anticompetitive behavior at real estate foreclosure auctions in Mississippi,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim. “In the past few years, the division has secured convictions of over 100 individuals around the country. The division remains committed to rooting out anticompetitive conduct at foreclosure auctions.”
Felony charges against Shannon and Jason Boykin were filed Feb. 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.
From at least as early May 22, 2012, through at least as late as March 22, 2017, Jason and Shannon Boykin 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, according to court documents.
Co-conspirators made and received payoffs in exchange for their agreement not to bid.
“Rigging, cheating and swindling foreclosure auctions undermines confidence in the marketplace, defrauds companies, and hurts owners of foreclosed homes,” U.S. Attorney D. Michael Hurst, Jr. for the Southern District of Mississippi. “These criminal actions harm us all, and I commend the Antitrust Division and the FBI for their investigation and prosecution of these crimes throughout the country.”
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, the department said.
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 remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner. 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, according to court documents.
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.