Tax-lien Victims Sought

July 07, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

Federal prosecutors are looking for what could be hundreds of victims in an alleged scheme to rig bids at Maryland tax lien auctions, according to court filings.

They've already identified two dozen corporate and municipal victims - including the city of Baltimore, and Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.

And they believe there could be many more injured individuals, people who lost their liened property to the defendants: Harvey M. Nusbaum and Jack W. Stollof.

The men, both in their 70s, were indicted last month on one count apiece of violating the Sherman Act.

From 2002 through 2007, the indictment alleges, they conspired to stifle competition in the tax lien bidding process, guaranteeing that they won a disproportionate number of liens, which allowed them to charge property owners large fees or to take their holdings if they couldn't pay.

An FBI surveillance team allegedly saw the men meeting in Baltimore County shortly before dropping off bid envelopes in Montgomery County and using signals to communicate during another auction, according to an affidavit.

A third defendant, Steven L. Berman, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with law enforcement in the bid-rigging investigation. He has yet to be sentenced and could be spared jail time if his cooperation is significant. He agreed to a $750,000 fine.

Nusbaum and Stollof pleaded not guilty to the charge in Baltimore's U.S. District Court last week. If convicted by a jury, they face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $1 million each, or double the illegal amount gained or the amount victims lost, whichever is greater.

In the meantime, the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office has asked the court to establish a procedure for notifying potential victims. Responses to the motion are due next week.

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