Foreclosure probe nets 53rd guilty plea

A real estate investor from San Mateo has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of bid rigging and fraud conspiracy at real estate foreclosure auctions in Alameda County, the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday.

was charged with one count of bid rigging and one count of mail fraud conspiracy in a document known as an information, filed in federal court in Oakland today by prosecutors from the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. The department simultaneously announced that Yeganeh has agreed to plead guilty to the charges.

A department spokesperson could not be reached for comment on when the plea will be entered. Including Yeganeh, a total of 52 people have pleaded guilty or promised to do so during the past several years in an ongoing federal probe of bid rigging at foreclosure auctions in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo counties. Another 20 real estate investors are awaiting trial on similar charges of bid rigging in auctions in Bay Area counties, the department said.

Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer, who heads the Antitrust Division, said in a statement:

“The sheer number of individuals involved in these conspiracies only emphasizes how critical it is that we remain committed to investigating and prosecuting those who have corrupted the public foreclosure auction process.”

The charging document alleges that between May 2008 and October 2010, Yeganeh and unnamed co-conspirators agreed not to bid against one another and to select a winning bidder at Alameda County foreclosure auctions.

The documents alleges the conspirators negotiated payoffs for those who agreed not to compete, and often held a second, private auction among themselves for the properties obtained through the bid rigging, the document alleged. Proceeds from foreclosure auctions are used to pay off the mortgage and other debts attached to the property, and any remaining funds are paid to the defaulting homeowner.

The alleged scheme diverted money from banks and homeowners to the conspirator investors, according to the document. Upon conviction, the bid-rigging charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of either $1 million or twice the amount of either the gain to the defendant or loss to the victims. The mail-fraud conspiracy count has a maximum sentence of 30 years and a $1 million fine.