Two Ocean Springs real estate developers rigged bids at public foreclosure auctions in a conspiracy that lasted nearly five years.
Shannon and Jason Boykin of Southern Coastal Realty and others designated a winning bidder at auctions to get the properties they wanted by deciding who would bid and who would not — and who would give or receive payoffs.
The couple, at plea hearings in federal court Thursday, admitted they and co-conspirators had secret meetings to rig bids during auctions at county courthouses in South Mississippi and in other states.
The Boykins admitted their crimes Thursday in U.S. District Court in Gulfport.
They violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, which forbids monopolies, price-fixing and bid-rigging.
They illegally reduced prices on homes for which the owners had defaulted on their mortgages, an indictment filed Feb. 1 says. Money made on the sales of auctioned homes pays off a mortgage and related debt, and gives any money left to the homeowner.
Meanwhile, the Boykins were engaged in the business of restoring, renting and selling homes.
“Rigging, cheating and swindling foreclosure auctions undermines confidence in the marketplace, defrauds companies and hurts owners of foreclosed homes,” U.S. Attorney Michael D. Hurst Jr. said in a news release.
The Boykins each face up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine at their sentencings on May 16.
The Boykins are the first two defendants to plead guilty to bid-rigging at public auctions in investigations by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim said.
The FBI is part of ongoing investigations.