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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Two Northern California Real Estate Investors Plead Guilty to Bid Rigging and Fraud at Public Foreclosure Auctions

Two Northern California real estate investors pleaded guilty for their role in bid-rigging conspiracies and mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced today.

Real estate investors John Shiells, of Danville, California, and Miguel De Sanz, of San Francisco, each pleaded guilty to three counts of bid rigging and three counts of mail fraud in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California in Oakland, California, today.  Both were charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of California on Nov. 19, 2014.

“These defendants took turns paying others or being paid by others to not bid at foreclosure auctions, all so that the conspirators could buy properties at reduced prices,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “The defendants and their co-conspirators corrupted these auctions and deprived lenders and homeowners of auction proceeds that were rightfully theirs.” 

To date, 56 individuals have pleaded guilty to criminal charges as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging and fraud at public foreclosure auctions in Northern California.  In addition, multi-count indictments are pending against 19 real estate investors that have been charged for their roles in bid-rigging and fraud schemes at foreclosure auctions in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and San Francisco counties. 

According to court documents, Shiells and De Sanz agreed not to compete to purchase selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions, designated which conspirator would win the selected properties and refrained from bidding on the selected properties at the public auctions.  This collusion began in Alameda County as early as June 2007; in Contra Costa County as July 2008; and in San Francisco County as early as November 2008.  The deals continued until approximately January 2011. 

Both Shiells and De Sanz were also charged with using the mail to carry out the schemes to fraudulently acquire the titles to selected properties sold at public auctions in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties, to make and receive payoffs and to divert money to co-conspirators that would have otherwise gone to mortgage holders and other beneficiaries. 

“The FBI continues to work closely with the Antitrust Division to target those individuals who engage in fraudulent bid rigging and other anticompetitive activities at foreclosure auctions,” said Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Division.  “We are committed to bringing to justice those who engage in illegal and unfair practices that adversely impact legitimate home buyers and sellers.”   

Each 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 violations of the Sherman Act may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims if either amount is greater than $1 million.  Each count of mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. 

Today’s charges are the latest filed by the department in its ongoing investigation into bid rigging and fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties in California.  These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Division.  Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office at 415-934-5300, or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

The charges were brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices, and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets; and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations.  Since fiscal year 2009, the Justice Department has filed over 18,000 financial fraud cases against more than 25,000 defendants.  For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.

**The fraud charge(s) referenced in this press release were subsequently dismissed on the government’s motion.**

Press Release Number: 
Updated December 4, 2017