A third Madison County tax buyer who pleaded guilty in November to violating the Sherman Antitrust Act was sentenced today to 16 months in prison.
Barrett R. Rochman, 71, of Makonda, participated in a price fixing scheme orchestrated by former treasurer Fred Bathon, who had structured the county’s tax sale that allowed certain tax buyers to charge distressed homeowners inflated interest rates from 2005 to 2008 in exchange for campaign contributions.
According to a release on today’s hearing in U.S. District Judge David Herndon’s court, Rochman’s lawyer, John P. Rogers of Clayton, Mo., had reached out to prosecutors before he was charged and offered to pay a large settlement in lieu of prosecution or in exchange for a misdemeanor plea.
Prosecutors said that Rochman’s conduct was too serious to be resolved solely by way of a settlement or a reduced plea and that they would not create the perception, or the reality, that one defendant would be able to buy his way out of trouble.
“Whether the case involves an elected official, a local attorney, or a wealthy businessman, my office will ensure accountability,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton. “No amount of money offered will interfere with the administration of justice.”
Wigginton also stated that if Rochman was sincere in his desire to pay back those affected, that he could agree to do so by putting the money in some sort of escrow account.
“Rochman is encouraged to make victims whole by helping repay their losses,” Wigginton said. “What he is not free to do is to use his fortune to evade criminal responsibility.”
Herndon also ordered Rochman to serve three years supervised release, pay a $30,000 fine and a special assessment of $100. The sentence was the maximum sentence recommended by federal sentencing guidelines.
Bathon, along with tax buyers Scott McLean and John Vassen have all been previously sentenced to federal prison for their roles in the scheme.
Bathon, 59, was sentenced on Dec. 6 to 30 months in prison by Herndon and is incarcerated at the Federal Correction Institute in Terre Haute, Ind. His release date is March 16, 2016.
McLean, 52, and Vassen, 57, were sentenced by Herndon on Feb. 19. McLean received an 18 month sentence and is set to be released July 7, 2015. Vassen received a 24 month sentence and is set to be released Dec. 12, 2015. They are both serving their time at Marion USP.
According to prosecutors, Bathon, first elected in 1998, ran the annual tax lien sale in a clean and legal manner until 2004. The scheme involved him structuring tax sales in a way that eliminated competitive bidding and allowed the tax buyers to engage in price fixing by only bidding the statutory maximum interest rate of 18 percent.
By 2007 and 2008, the bid rigging and price fixing was so pervasive that distressed homeowners were charged the statutory maximum interest rate on nearly every property tax lien sold, prosecutors said. During the tax auction occurring Nov. 14-15, 2007, 2,549 out of 2,574 property tax liens were awarded to bidders for the statutory maximum interest rate of 18 percent, which represented 99.03 percent of the property tax liens auctioned. During the tax auction occurring Nov. 13-14, 2008, 2,290 out of 2,364 property tax liens were awarded to bidders for the statutory maximum interest rate of 18 percent, which represented 96.86 percent of the property tax liens auctioned.