A recent investigation into bid-rigging at public foreclosures raises an interesting question: Should citizens have a right to presumed privacy in public places? The San Francisco FBI thinks not. Federal agents hid microphones around three courthouses in the city in the hopes of getting an upper hand.
The case itself is relatively simple. Real estate investors stand accused of agreeing to keep auction bids on foreclosed properties low by not outbidding each other in court. Allegedly, they then would share profits on property purchased at reduced prices. A sting operation led to 50 convictions in California and is still going strong. Now they’re going after Michael Marr.
Marr is an investor who, along with his associates, has bought up hundreds of properties throughout California. Some were flipped, others were rented out. The investors made out like bandits. There are no underdogs in this story.
FBI agents hid recording devices in order to catch conversations between investors during those public auctions, which are held on the literal courthouse steps. Surveillance didn’t stop there. Bugs were installed near a courthouse bus stop. A backpack was bugged and planted near an indoor statue. Microphones were left on parked cars, roving cars, up a pole and in bushes.
The public first learned about the public FBI surveillance in conjunction with a foreclosure fraudsting operation last year. The FBI attempted to use some of the audio collected outside of the San Mateo courthouse as evidence against several investors. The investors protested, claiming that the audio had been illegally obtained.