Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Rigging Bids at Online Foreclosure Auctions
First Guilty Plea Involving Foreclosure Auctions in Florida
Real estate investor Stuart Hankin pleaded guilty today for his role in a conspiracy to rig bids, in violation of antitrust law, at online public foreclosure auctions in Florida, the Department of Justice announced. He is the first defendant to plead guilty in this conspiracy.
“Those who corrupt the foreclosure auction process through illegal bid rigging must expect to face the consequences,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “The Division remains committed to rooting out antitrust violations at foreclosure auctions, whether the auction is online or in person, and whether the conspiracy is carried out in person, in text messages, or through other electronic means.”
Felony charges of bid rigging were filed against Stuart Hankin on November 2, 2017, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. According to court documents, from around January 2012 through around June 2015, Hankin conspired with others to rig bids during online foreclosure auctions in Palm Beach County, Florida.
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 online foreclosure auctions at noncompetitive 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 available to the homeowner. According to court documents, the conspiracy artificially lowered the price paid at auction for such homes. In the past several years, the Division and its law enforcement partners have secured convictions of over 100 individuals for rigging public mortgage foreclosure auctions in six different states, now including Florida.
“Stuart Hankin and his co-conspirators used bid rigging to successfully undermine the legitimate, competitive foreclosure auction process for certain properties in Palm Beach County, Florida,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert F. Lasky for FBI Miami. “Their greed left victims – including homeowners and other valid stakeholders – shortchanged. The FBI and our law enforcement partners will vigorously investigate such schemes.”
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 I Section and the FBI’s Miami Division – West Palm Beach Resident Agency. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Washington Criminal I Section of the Antitrust Division at 202-307-6694, call the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258, or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html.