Feds produce millions of pages of evidence in Palm Beach County bid-rigging bust

Talk about the wheels of justice turning quickly: The federal government in early November charged three Palm Beach County real estate investors with rigging bids at foreclosure auctions. Their trial is scheduled for early January.

However, the case might not proceed quite that fast. The feds on Friday said they released “a substantial production” of evidence to defense attorneys for Christopher Graeve, Stuart Hankin and Avi Stern.

The federal data dump includes more than 1.8 million documents and more than 3.35 million pages of searchable electronic files. The defense lawyers say they won’t be ready for trial until they’ve had a chance to study the millions of pages of documents.

From January 2012 until June 2015, prosecutors say, the three investors engaged in a “conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition by rigging bids and allocating the market for properties sold during online property foreclosure auctions in Palm Beach County.” 

According to the indictment, the three investors agreed not to bid against each other on certain properties or in certain neighbhorhoods.

Each faces one count of conspiracy to restrain trade, a felony that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. The three men appeared in federal court in West Palm Beach in mid-November to surrender their passports and promise to post bond.

Because the U.S. Attorney’s Office wins convictions in more than 90 percent of the cases it brings, defendants often plead guilty before going to trial. But these charges seem destined for a full hearing.

A status report filed Friday said, “This case is not likely to be resolved by a guilty plea.”

The indictment offers no details about the number of homes the three bought, how much they paid or how much their actions might have pushed down prices.

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