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Virginia man to pay fines for rigging bids in North Carolina

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens Tuesday approved a request by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper for a consent judgment against a Virginia man accused of rigging bids for public auctions, including three unsuccessful attempts in Mecklenburg County.

Bruce Olvin McBarnette of Sterling, Va., will pay $47,400 in civil penalties and consumer refunds. Cooper alleges that McBarnette, under his company Summit Connection LLC, entered into agreements to rig bids on four foreclosed properties being auctioned in Durham County in 2009 and 2010.

In one case, McBarnette told a local pastor that he would continue bidding against her on a property she was attempting to acquire for her church unless she paid him $1,200. Another pastor paid McBarnette $2,900 to stop bidding on two properties. One man trying to buy a home for his mother paid McBarnette $800 to stop bidding on the house.

In January, McBarnette attempted to rig a bid for three Charlotte properties: 217 S. Cloudman St.,  2518 Pitts Drive, and 636 Blackmon St., according to the judgment.  Summit Connection submitted an upset bid for each property and contacted the man he had outbid, who held the second-highest bids on all properties.

According to the judgment, “McBarnette stated that, rather than Bidder E having to submit at least the minimum $750 upset bid amount for each property, defendant McBarnette would convey the property to Bidder E in exchange for some amount less than $750 for each property. The parties understood that, if Bidder E accepted the proposal, they would refrain from further bidding for the properties.”

Instead, the other bidder submitted the winning bid for the properties.

“Trying to fix public auctions isn’t the fair, legal way to do business,” Cooper said in a statement. “Bid rigging squelches honest competition and keeps buyers and sellers from getting a truly fair price.”

McBarnette and Summit Connection have paid $4,900 in restitution so far, the amount of money they made for agreeing not to bid on certain properties. The money will go to the sellers of the properties who would have made more money at auction had McBarnette not rigged the bids. McBarnette and his company are also barred permanently from entering into any agreement not to bid on public sales of property in North Carolina or from asking anyone not to bid and from offering or accepting anything of value in exchange for not bidding.

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