Anthony B. Ghio, 43, Stockton, California, has pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Edward J. Garcia to conspiring to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions held in San Joaquin County, California.
Ghio admitted in his guilty plea that he conspired with a group of real estate speculators who agreed not to bid against each other at certain public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Joaquin County. The primary purpose of the conspiracy was to suppress and restrain competition and obtain selected real estate offered at San Joaquin County public foreclosure auctions at noncompetitive prices.
Court documents show that after the conspirators’ designated bidder bought a property at a public auction, they would hold a second private auction. Each participating conspirator would submit bids in the private auction above the public auction price. The conspirator who bid the highest amount at the end of the private auction won the property. The difference between the noncompetitive price at the public auction and the winning bid at the second auction was the group’s illicit profit, and it was divided among the conspirators in payoffs. Ghio participated in the bid-rigging scheme from April 2009 until October 2009.
Ghio is charged with bid rigging, a violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victim of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory sentencing factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner and Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division announced the charges. Assistant United States Attorneys Robin R. Taylor and Russell L. Carlberg are prosecuting the case with assistance from Barbara Nelson and Richard Cohen of the Antitrust Division.
This law enforcement action is part of President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.
President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.
One component of the FFETF is the national Mortgage Fraud Working Group, co-chaired by U.S. Attorney Wagner.
These charges arose from an ongoing federal antitrust investigation of fraud and bidding irregularities in certain real estate auctions in San Joaquin County. The investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office.
The investigation is continuing. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office 415-436-6660 or visit http://www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm, or the FBI’s Sacramento Division at 916-481-9110, or the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California at 916-554-2900.
Media inquiries to the U.S. Attorney’s Office should be directed to Lauren Horwood at 916-554-2706. Media inquiries regarding the department’s Antitrust Division should be directed to Gina Talamona at 202-514-2007.