Five real estate investors accused of rigging bids at foreclosure auctions in San Francisco and San Mateo County have been indicted in federal court in San Francisco, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The indictment filed Tuesday charges Northern California real estate investors Joseph Giraudo, Raymond Grinsell, Kevin Cullinane, James Appenrodt, and Abraham Farag with participating in conspiracies to defraud mortgage holders and others through bid rigging and mail fraud.
Beginning in August 2008 and continuing through January 2011, prosecutors allege the defendants rigged dozens of public auctions in San Mateo County and three of the five men – Giraudo, Grinsell and Appenrodt – engaged in bid rigging in San Francisco County as well.
The defendants allegedly agreed to refrain from bidding or to stop bidding on certain properties that were for sale at public auctions, the indictment alleges. They would designate which among them would win certain properties and then buy those properties at an artificially deflated price.
Those who didn’t bid on the properties received payoffs, prosecutors said.
“These defendants corrupted the public foreclosure auctions in San Mateo and San Francisco counties, and they did so to line their pockets with money that rightfully belonged to mortgage holders and others,” Deputy Assistant Attorney Brent Snyder said.
To date, 47 people have agreed to plead or have pleaded guilty to charges of bid rigging and fraud at public foreclosure auctions in Northern California as part of the U.S. Attorney’s Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program.
In 2009, President Barack Obama established the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, charged with investigating and prosecuting financial crimes.
Each bid rigging violation, which is prohibited under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Judges also have the option of imposing a fine that is twice the gain derived from the crime or a fine that is twice the loss suffered by the victim, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Each count of mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The government can also seek to forfeit the proceeds earned from participating in the mail fraud schemes.
Anyone with information about bid rigging schemes or fraud related to public foreclosure auctions is asked to contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco office at (415) 934-5300, or the FBI’s tip line at (415) 553-7400.
Erin Baldassari, Bay City News