The latest defendant in an ongoing investigation into a public real estate auction bid-rigging scheme was sentenced last month in federal court. Oscar C. Anez, 53, pleaded guilty in February to one count of bid rigging in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and one count of mail fraud.

On April 10, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade ordered Anez to serve 12 months and a day in prison and to pay $343,561 in restitution.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice news release, between March 2002 and November 2010, Anez conspired with others to not compete for selected foreclosure properties at public auctions in order to obtain the properties at artificially suppressed auction prices. Additionally, Anez and his co-conspirators held secret, second auctions for rigged foreclosure properties. The winner of the second auction obtained title to the property and made payoffs to co-conspirators.

The money the conspirators paid to one another would have gone to mortgage holders, homeowners and others with a legal interest in the property.

As Lagniappe previously reported, the Justice Department has secured at least 11 convictions in the case, but that has since grown to 15. The department has been unresponsive to requests for information about the other individuals involved.

“The court’s sentence holds Oscar Anez accountable for his major role in carrying out these schemes and will serve as a strong deterrent to others who are considering violating federal laws that prohibit anticompetitive conduct,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brent Snyder of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division said in a prepared statement. “To date, 15 defendants have been prosecuted and more than $1 million in restitution has been ordered … ”

Mobile’s Acting U.S. Attorney Steve Butler said, “Fraud and bid-rigging have no place in this community. This sentence should serve as a reminder that violations of federal antitrust laws will be actively investigated and prosecuted in the Southern District of Alabama.”

“The FBI remains dedicated to working with our law enforcement partners to eliminate this type of fraud,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert F. Lasky of the FBI’s Mobile Field Office.

The sentencing of Anez is a result of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Washington Criminal II Section of the Antitrust Division and the Mobile Field Office of the FBI, with substantial assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama.

Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions can contact the Washington Criminal II Section of the Antitrust Division at 202-598-4000.