Five businessmen have now pleaded guilty to conspiring to rig bids on foreclosed real estate auctions at courthouses in South Mississippi.
One of them, retired Gulfport Allstate agent Terry Tolar, 61, said he had no idea what the real estate investors did was illegal. They met up for years at auctions, agreeing ahead of time who would bid on properties and who would abstain from bidding.
The winning bidder paid kickbacks to those who agreed not to bid.
Tolar admitted in U.S. District Court on Tuesday that he spent more than $1.4 million on properties and kickbacks while he participated in the conspiracy from January 2012 through March 2017.
Also pleading guilty were Kevin C. Moore, 57, of Biloxi and Chad Nichols, 45, a former bank loan officer from Gulfport.
Moore admitted spending $838,000 on properties and kickbacks. Nichols said he spent more than $236,000.
Brothers Shannon and Jason Boykin pleaded guilty in February in the case. The Boykins are scheduled to be sentenced May 15.
Sentencing of the other three real estate investors is scheduled for July 5. U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. is presiding over the cases.
The conspiracy conviction carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a fine of up to $1 million.
The U.S. Justice Department's Antitrust Division and FBI investigated the case.
“Individuals who harm homeowners and defraud companies by cheating our foreclosure system to enrich themselves will face swift and certain criminal prosecution in Mississippi,” Michael Hurst Jr., U.S. attorney for Mississippi's Southern District, said in a news release.
"I applaud the FBI and the Antitrust Division for their tenacity and perseverance in pursuing these criminal actions and shutting this illegal scheme down.”