Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Bid Rigging at Online Auctions

Real estate investor Christopher Graeve pleaded guilty today in West Palm Beach, in connection with an ongoing investigation into bid rigging at online public foreclosure auctions in Florida, the Department of Justice announced.  Graeve is the second real estate investor to plead guilty in this investigation.  

Felony charges of bid rigging were filed against Graeve 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, Graeve conspired with others to rig bids during online foreclosure auctions in Palm Beach County, Florida.

“Real estate investors who deal in foreclosed properties should be on notice that the Division will not tolerate the subversion of competition in foreclosure auctions,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “The Division will continue to prosecute antitrust violations that occur at these auctions, and will hold individuals who engage in this conduct accountable.”

“Real estate investors who think they can swindle the system to line their pockets with ill-gotten gains beware,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert F. Lasky of the FBI Miami’s Field Office. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners will vigorously investigate such schemes.”

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 non-competitive 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 more than 100 individuals for rigging public mortgage foreclosure auctions in six different states, including Florida.  

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/report-violations.

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Author: August 9, 2018