concrete steps and picnic tables out front of the Alameda County
Courthouse where a band of would-be home-buyers gathered.
a regular at the daily foreclosure auctions, joined the crowd, sporting
a safari hat and an unkempt white beard. He greeted many in the crowd
by name, ribbing them with playful banter, as he settled himself at one
of the concrete tables. He paused for a moment, taking in the scene.
"Kramer, what are you looking around for?" yelled a man from across the steps, laughing.
"They already found me," he deadpanned.
In 2011, Kramer, 66, was caught in a nationwide FBI and Department of Justice
investigation into bid-rigging at foreclosure auctions. He pleaded
guilty to colluding with other bidders to suppress the sale prices of
the foreclosed houses that came to market during the mortgage crisis.
They then held private illegal secondary auctions where they resold the
properties and split the profits. Across the state, similar schemes
played out. Those who have pleaded guilty face up to 10 years in prison
and fines of $1 million for bid-rigging.
An investigation by the
UC Berkeley Investigative Reporting Program, relying on thousands of
property records, court documents and dozens of interviews with bidders,
provides a behind-the-scenes look at the murky world of foreclosure
auctions, where intimidation was commonplace and millions in cashier's
checks were exchanged daily.