Trent Gaines, a Georgia real estate investor, pleaded guilty for his role in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Georgia. Gaines admitted that he and others conspired not to bid against one another at public real estate foreclosure auctions from October 2008 to November 2010 in Fulton County, Georgia, and from September 2006 to February 2011 in DeKalb County, Georgia. Gaines also admitted to conspiring with others to use the mail to carry out a scheme to fraudulently acquire title to selected Fulton and DeKalb properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs and to divert money to co-conspirators that should have gone to mortgage holders and others. The selected properties were then awarded to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids in private side auctions open only to Gaines and his co-conspirators.
“Today’s prosecution demonstrates the division’s continuing commitment to vigorously prosecute domestic cartels and fraud, and to obtain justice for victims of antitrust and fraud offenses,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “The guilty plea is the 10th prosecution against defendants for bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions in Georgia.”
According to documents filed with the court, the purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and restrain competition and divert money to the conspirators that otherwise would have gone to pay off the mortgage and other holders of debt secured by the properties, and, in some cases, the defaulting homeowner.
“This case again illustrates not only the problems regarding bid rigging at real estate auctions in Georgia but also the federal efforts involved in shutting this type of criminal activity down,” said Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Division. “The FBI reminds the public that such activity as seen in this case is a violation of federal law and, as such, the FBI will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division in identifying, investigating and presenting for federal prosecution, those involved.”
Including Gaines, 10 cases have been filed as a result of the ongoing investigation being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section, the FBI’s Atlanta Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Georgia.