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An Alabama Real Estate Investor Plead Guilty Of Rigging Auctions

An Alabama real estate investor has agreed to plead guilty and to serve one year in prison for his role in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in southern Alabama, the U.S. Department of Justice. As a result of the ongoing investigation, four individuals and one company have pleaded guilty.

The Department of Justice said that charges were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama in Mobile, Ala., against Steven Cox of Mobile. Cox was charged with one count of bid rigging and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. According to the plea agreement, which is subject to court approval, Cox has agreed to serve one year in prison, to pay a $10,000 criminal fine and to cooperate with the department's ongoing investigation.

According to court documents, Cox conspired with others not to bid against one another at public real estate foreclosure auctions in southern Alabama. After a designated bidder bought a property at the public auctions, which typically take place at the county courthouse, the conspirators would generally hold a secret, second auction, at which each participant would bid the amount above the public auction price he or she was willing to pay. The highest bidder at the secret, second auction won the property.

The Department noted that Cox was also charged with conspiring to use the U.S. mail to carry out a scheme to acquire title to rigged foreclosure properties sold at public auctions at artificially suppressed prices, to make and receive payoffs to co-conspirators and to cause financial institutions, homeowners and others with a legal interest in rigged foreclosure properties to receive less than the competitive price for the properties. Cox participated in the bid-rigging and mail fraud conspiracies from as early as January 2004 until at least May 2010.

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 a Sherman Act charge may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victim if either amount is greater than the statutory maximum fine. Each count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine in an amount equal to the greatest of $250,000, twice the gross gain the conspirators derived from the crime or twice the gross loss caused to the victims of the crime by the conspirators.

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