- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Three men were convicted Friday of rigging bids at real estate auctions held in Northern California to snatch up hundreds of foreclosed properties during the housing crisis.

The jury found Michael Marr, Javier Sanchez and Gregory Casorso guilty of conspiracy following a three-week trial in federal court in Oakland.

Prosecutors said they worked together to suppress the prices of bids on foreclosed homes at courthouse auctions in Alameda County between June 2008 and January of 2011. Marr and Sanchez also were convicted of conspiracy to rig bids in Contra Costa County.

Authorities said the men decided who would win the bidding for certain properties by agreeing not to compete with each other before the public auction. They would then hold a private auction to determine who would get the properties. Prosecutors said payoffs were given to those who agreed not to compete with them.

Those practices cheated lenders, taxpayers and distressed homeowners, officials said.

Marr owns more than 300 properties and is considered the largest private landlord in Oakland, the East Bay Times reported (https://bayareane.ws/2qpRXBx). Some of his tenants protested outside the courthouse when his trial began. They alleged he is raising rents, sending eviction notices and collecting back rents at homes he purchased in the working-class neighborhoods of east Oakland.

Federal authorities continue to investigate bid-rigging in Northern California. So far, 68 people have been convicted or pleaded guilty, and indictments are pending against other real estate investors who participated in the conspiracy, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

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