Coast real estate agent Kim Foster, 47, of Vancleave, has pleaded guilty to conspiring to rig bids on properties sold at public auctions in South Mississippi.
Foster began to cry Thursday afternoon when U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. told her that her crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.
Guirola plans to sentence Foster, the seventh person to plead guilty during the ongoing investigation in South Mississippi, at 10 a.m. Oct. 17 at the federal courthouse in Gulfport.
She is unlikely to receive the maximum sentence. She struck a plea agreement with prosecutors and is cooperating with investigators.
Foster told the judge she sold real estate for 19 years and previously spent more than two years in the Navy.
She did not want to talk with the Sun Herald after her plea hearing, but did say that she is no longer active as a real estate agent.
Attorneys from the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Justice Department in Washington appeared for the government during the plea hearing.
One of the attorneys, Heather Call, said Foster spent about $550,000 on properties and payoffs as part of the bid-rigging conspiracy from August 2009-December 2016.
The government has outlined how the scheme worked in the South Mississippi bid-rigging cases prosecuted so far, including Foster’s case.
Investors met in secret before public auctions at South Mississippi courthouses. They decided who would bid on a property and those who agreed to sit out the bidding were paid off.
The conspiracy suppressed the prices for which properties sold, the government contends. Banks lost money, as did property owners owed any proceeds.
The DOJ’s Antitrust Division has been cracking down on the practice nationwide.
Also charged in the South Mississippi cases are Biloxi businessman Ivan Spinner, retired Allstate agent Terry Tolar of Gulfport, Kevin C. Moore of Biloxi, former bank loan officer Chad Nichols of Gulfport, and real estate investors and brothers Shannon and Jason Boykin of Jackson County.
In a news release about the latest plea, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim said:
“The (Antitrust) Division remains committed to holding accountable those who violate the antitrust laws, including real estate investors who take advantage of financial distress to line their own pockets. Today’s plea, along with the convictions of well over 100 other individuals who rigged foreclosure auctions all across the country, demonstrates that individual accountability remains a top priority for the Division.”