NEWARK—A Pennsylvania corporation pleaded guilty Wednesday to participating in a conspiracy to rig bids for the sale of tax liens auctioned by municipalities throughout New Jersey, the Department of Justice announced.
A felony charge was filed on Sept. 26 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark, against Crusader Servicing Corp. of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. According to the felony charge, from at least as early as 1998 until September 2006, Crusader participated in a conspiracy to rig bids at auctions for the sale of municipal tax liens in New Jersey by agreeing to allocate among certain bidders which liens each would bid on. The department said that Crusader submitted bids in accordance with their agreements and purchased tax liens at collusive and non-competitive interest rates.
“The conspirators agreed to not compete with one another at these tax lien auctions, depriving struggling homeowners of a competitive interest rate,” said Scott D. Hammond, deputy assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program. “[Wednesday]’s guilty plea demonstrates the Antitrust Division’s continuing efforts to prosecute those who manipulate the competitive process in order to harm home and property owners.”
The department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracy was to suppress and restrain competition to obtain selected municipal tax liens offered at public auctions at non-competitive interest rates. When the owner of real property fails to pay taxes on that property, the municipality in which the property is located may attach a lien for the amount of the unpaid taxes. If the taxes remain unpaid after a waiting period, the lien may be sold at auction. State law requires that investors bid on the interest rate delinquent homeowners will pay upon redemption. By law, the bid opens at 18 percent interest and, through a competitive bidding process, can be driven down to zero percent. If a lien remains unpaid after a certain period of time, the investor who purchased the lien may begin foreclosure proceedings against the property to which the lien is attached.
According to the court documents, Crusader conspired with others not to bid against one another at municipal tax lien auctions in New Jersey. Since the conspiracy permitted the conspirators to purchase tax liens with limited competition, each conspirator was able to obtain liens which earned a higher interest rate. Property owners were therefore made to pay higher interest on their tax debts than they would have paid had their liens been purchased in open and honest competition.
A violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of $100 million criminal fine for corporations. The maximum fine for a Sherman Act violation may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims if either amount is greater than the statutory maximum.
This is the 10th guilty plea resulting from an ongoing investigation into bid rigging or fraud related to municipal tax lien auctions. Eight individuals—Isadore H. May, Richard J. Pisciotta, Jr., William A. Collins, Robert W. Stein, David M. Farber, Robert E. Rothman, Stephen E. Hruby, and David Butler—and one company, DSBD LLC, have previously pleaded guilty as part of this investigation.
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