Consider the following not‐so‐hypothetical situation: The Duke brothers (Randolph and Mortimer) are in the business of buying foreclosed houses at auction under the name Duke & Duke (DD). Louis Winthorpe III and Billy Ray Valentine are in the same business, operating under the name Ophelia Properties (OP). Both businesses seek to buy houses at the lowest possible price and then to renovate them for resale. DD and OP often compete with each other at the same auction, and thus sometimes drive up the prices paid although both businesses operate according to proprietary algorithms that calculate the maximum price to be paid for each property.
While sailing in the Caribbean, Winthorpe and Valentine devise a plan that they think might dramatically increase their profits. They figure that if they can buy and renovate all of the foreclosed houses on a given block, they could sell each house for a much higher price by eliminating any eyesores that keep prices down. The problem is that they do not have enough capital to buy several houses at a time. Thus, they decide to approach the Duke Brothers at the Heritage Club holiday party about a possible collaboration. The Dukes are quite receptive to the idea. After several cocktails, they agree that DD will collaborate with OP in the plan. To be specific, the two firms agree that they will jointly develop software designed to identify appropriate target blocks and to generate guidance as to bidding strategy. They agree to share equally the expense of developing and operating the software (including the gathering of input data). They further agree that before each auction they will use the software to identify a block where they will bid on all of the houses available. DD will bid on one half of the houses on the block, and OP will bid on the other half, but they will not bid against each other on any of the houses on the block. They agree to compensate each other to the extent that either DD or OP ends up spending more on the houses won at auction. In other words, they agree to split the cost fifty‐fifty so that DD and OP will have an equal investment in the venture. But DD and OP will each handle their own renovations. The strategy turns out to be very successful. But when another bidder discovers that the Dukes have been collaborating with Ophelia, he contacts the Justice Department and complains that the strategy is a restraint of trade because the two firms were previously competitors. The Justice Department (through the Antitrust Division) indicts the four individuals on charges of bid rigging. In effect, the theory is that they agreed to divide up the market and to refrain from bidding against each other. To make matters worse, bid rigging is a per se violation of the antitrust laws. There is no need for the prosecution to show anticompetitive effect and no defense that the arrangement is in fact pro‐competitive. The Dukes cop a plea and agree to testify against Winthorpe and Valentine. Winthorpe and Valentine move to dismiss the action on the theory that their arrangement with the Dukes was a partnership and thus not a conspiracy. The prosecution argues that anyone engaged in a conspiracy could make that argument and that if the court accepts it, there would be no law against bid rigging as a practical matter. The court agrees and refuses to permit the defendants to make the argument. As a result Winthorp and Valentine also agree to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. They are now in jail – albeit a relatively nice jail.