A federal jury has acquitted a Margate man and his two family-owned companies in an alleged bid-rigging scheme.

The defendants were indicted under the Sherman Antitrust Act for allegedly conspiring to reduce or eliminate competition at municipal tax-lien sales from 1998 through 2009.

Just a year into the investigation, the FBI had enough information to stop the investigation into Joseph Wolfson and the two Northfield-based LLCs he partially owned, his attorney said Tuesday.

But instead, the 2007 probe stretched 18 months and led to a 2013 indictment. Last week, a jury cleared Wolfson along with Betty Simon Trustee LLC and Richard Simon Trustee LLC.

The jury convicted just one of the six defendants, James Jeffers Jr., an independent contractor from Burlington who was responsible for managing and overseeing bidders for a Pennsylvania-based company.

“We were, of course, gratified by the jury’s verdict,” said Wolfson’s attorney, Ed Jacobs. “It was a complete endorsement of everything we have always said.”

There are about 566 such tax-lien sales each year in the state, Jacobs said. The FBI’s undercover investigation included 17 sales and captured 14 audio recordings with some video.

“Of all these hundreds of tax sales for more than a decade, Joe never violated any federal law,” Jacobs said. “He simply pursued absolutely legal and legitimate business strategies.”

The trial began Sept. 18 in federal court in Newark and ended with the jury deliberating a total of about eight hours over two days.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, which prosecuted the case, declined comment, said Peter Carr, spokesman for the department’s Office of Public Affairs.

“They spent a lot of time and money and energy, and sometimes they don’t make sensible decisions about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys,” Jacobs said of the Justice Department. “Sometimes they cast the net way too wide.”

Contact: 609-272-7257

Twitter @LyndaCohen

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