Heir-Location Firm Charged in Antitrust Probe

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) — In a federal antitrust complaint, the Department of Justice charged an heir-location services firm and its co-owner with conspiring to allocate customers with a competitor.
     The one-count felony indictment against Kemp & Associates and Daniel Mannix was filed on Aug. 17.
     Heir-location-services companies develop evidence and prove heirs’ claims to inheritance in probate courts, for contingency fees.
     Firms generally identify people who may be entitled to an inheritance from the estate of someone who died without a will.
     From 1999 to 2014, the Justice Department claims, Kemp & Associates and Mannix, its co-owner and vice president, conspired with non-party Richard Blake Jr. and other unindicted co-conspirators “to suppress and eliminate competition” by allocating customers.
     Blake, who owns a Massachusetts-based firm, pleaded guilty in Illinois Federal Court in March to one count of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act.
     “For over a decade, the defendants schemed to line their pockets at the expense of beneficiaries,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Renata Hesse, of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, said in a statement.
     “These charges underscore the division’s commitment to hold heir location services executives and their companies accountable for cheating heirs whose relatives died without a will.”
     Three executives and two companies have been charged in the continuing investigation of customer allocation, price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the heir-location-services industry.
     Kemp & Associates’ attorney James Mitchell, of New York, denied the allegation.
     “Kemp & Associates and Dan Mannix firmly believe that they have done nothing wrong, and the company will continue to provide the important services to heirs that it has for over 50 years,” Mitchell said.
     Federal prosecutors said on Christmas Eve last year that Brandenburger & Davis and its president Bradley Davis, of California, would plead guilty to similar violations.
     That guilty plea included a criminal fine of $890,000, and Brandenburger’s cooperation in the continuing investigation.

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