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N.J. Tax Lien Buyer Pleads Guilty in Bid-Rig Case: U.S.

Mercer SME Inc., , a municipal tax-lien buyer based in Burlington, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to a role in conspiring to rig auction bids, U.S. Justice Department officials said.

An unidentified nonprofit firm regularly bought liens auctioned by state municipalities and assigned some to Mercer, according to a filing today in U.S. District Court in Newark.

From 2003 to 2009, companies including Mercer conspired “to suppress and eliminate competition by submitting non-competitive and collusive bids” in restraint of interstate trade, authorities said in the filing.

“The conspirators agreed to coordinate their bids and allocate the tax liens amongst themselves, at the expense of distressed property owners,” Scott D. Hammond, deputy assistant attorney general, said in a statement. “Today’s guilty plea sends a message that those who profit from illegal, anticompetitive conduct will be held accountable.”

The action was part of President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, created in November 2009 to wage aggressive prosecution of financial crimes, with more than 20 federal agencies involved.

A violation of the Sherman Act might result in a $100 million fine. It was the 11th guilty plea resulting from an investigation that’s continuing, officials said.

The case is U.S. v. Mercer SME Inc., U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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