Nine MS real estate investors have pleaded guilty in bid rigging scheme
The ongoing federal investigation into bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions has yielded two more guilty pleas in Mississippi.
More than 100 people nationwide have been charged for their role in the scheme.
On Tuesday, the latest to plead guilty in federal court in Gulfport were Mississippi real estate investors Christopher Vaughan of Ocean Springs and Jon Gregg Goodhart Jr. of Biloxi for their role in conspiring to rig bids.
Felony charges were filed against Vaughan on Nov. 9, and Goodhart on Nov. 19.
“These types of crimes affect all Americans, because when individuals rig bids at auctions, it ultimately damages our economy and hurts individuals,” Christopher Freeze, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Mississippi, said in a news release.
According to court documents, from at least as early as June 9, 2011, through at least as late as Feb. 8, 2017, Vaughan conspired with others not to bid against one another for selected public real estate foreclosure auctions in the Gulf Coast area. Goodhart participated in the conspiracy from as early as Aug. 20, 2009, through at least as late as Dec. 11, 2014. Conspirators made and received payoffs in exchange for their agreement not to bid.
Vaughan and Goodhart were the eighth and ninth individuals charged and who have pleaded guilty in Mississippi in the bid-rigging scheme.
In February, brothers Jason Boykin and Shannon Boykin of Ocean Springs were the first of the nine in Mississippi to plead guilty. The two, in conspiracy with others, would designate a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions.
The Boykin brothers paid out more than $1.5 million to rig bids, according to court papers.
Kevin Moore of Biloxi and Chad Nichols and Terry Tolar, both of Gulfport, pleaded guilty in April. In June, Biloxi businessman Ivan Spinner pleaded guilty and in July, Kimberly Foster of Vancleave pleaded guilty.
All nine are awaiting sentencing. Sentencing was delayed in November for the defendants at the request of the Justice Department.
“The United States’ investigation into bid rigging at foreclosure auctions in the Southern District of Mississippi remains active and ongoing, and the defendant is required to cooperate with this investigation,” Justice Department attorney Megan Lewis said in motions to delay sentencing for each of the defendants.
The sentencings have been reset for January, but Lewis said further delays could be sought.
A 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 victims of the crime if either amount is greater than the statutory maximum fine.
The Mississippi investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section and the FBI’s Gulfport Resident Agency, with the assistance of the U.S. attorney’s office.