WASHINGTON (AP) — The owner and president of a company that identifies and locates potential heirs to an estate has agreed to plead guilty as part of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation, the Justice Department said Thursday.
Richard A. Blake Jr., whose firm is in Braintree, Massachusetts, has agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department probe and a sentence will be determined later, prosecutors said.
The antitrust charge stems from an investigation into anti-competitive practices among heir location firms, which work to track down heirs who may be owed a portion of an inheritance after a distant relative dies without a will. The companies typically receive a contingency fee paid out of whatever inheritance their client receives.
But in the case announced Thursday, filed in federal court in Chicago, prosecutors say Blake tried to reduce competition in the industry by allocating heirs with an unnamed company and other unidentified conspirators.
Court documents say Blake sold his services at collusive and noncompetitive fees as part of a scheme that began as far back as September 1999, and that the companies agreed to effectively share contingency fees collected from allocated heirs.
The case was announced just weeks after prosecutors revealed a separate plea agreement with a California company, Brandenburger & Davis, that is also involved in the same industry.
"Here the death of a relative was used by heir location service firms to line their pockets at the expense of their clients," Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer, head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, said in a statement. "This announcement is another step in bringing to justice those who conspired to cheat heirs of those who died without a will."
Online court records don't list a lawyer for Blake, and there was no response to a phone message left Thursday.
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