Federal prosecutors on Wednesday sought to seize more than 2.8 million shares of the website Real Estate Hunters, as well as the company that operates it, from a company called Real EstateScout, in what could be the first criminal forfeiture of a real estate search tool.
In a federal lawsuit, prosecutors said they plan to use the seized shares to pay the legal fees of several former employees, who are seeking damages and other legal remedies.
The company, Real Estate Scouts, was shut down last year.
Prosecutors said the forfeiture would allow them to pursue criminal charges against Real Estate Scout’s executives and owners, including its co-founder and CEO.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
The lawsuit said Real Estate Scouting has been accused of “inappropriately using the proceeds from its search engine to settle personal claims, to engage in fraudulent business practices, to defraud investors, and to solicit payments to conceal its fraudulent activities.”
In a separate suit, prosecutors alleged that Real Estate Scout has been using the search engine for more than two years to “discredit and malign legitimate competitors.”
The suit said the defendants “knowingly and willfully deceived the public and their investors by misrepresenting that Real estate search results are not search engine results and thereby defrauding investors and falsely claiming that the company is a legitimate and reliable provider of search results.”
It said that in 2015, Real HouseSearch, which operates the Real Estate Search Engine, was taken offline after the FBI learned of a potential security vulnerability.
The FBI said the company’s CEO was arrested on charges of securities fraud.
Real EstateSearchers founder and CEO Mark Breen, left, speaks to reporters on Aug. 5, 2018, in Chicago, Illinois.
Breen was charged with securities fraud, fraud in connection with a federal investigation, and breach of trust.
(Mark Schiefelbein/AP) Real EstateSearch was taken down by the FBI last year and has been in private hands since.
The site has been owned by a group of investors including some of the former Real Estatescout executives and former company directors.
The complaint said that Real HouseSearchers executives have used the company as a front to solicit “billions in fraudulent investment and other improper payments.”
Prosecutors also said that the defendants are responsible for “unlawful conduct” that allegedly led to the loss of millions of dollars in revenue.
The indictment alleged that defendants had been using a third-party service to make unauthorized investments on Real Estatesearch, including through the company website.
Real HouseScout said it has no comment on the allegations.
In an email to CNNMoney, RealHouseScout called the allegations “ridiculous” and “baseless.”
“Real HouseScouts search is one of the most widely used real estate searches in the U.K., and it’s not even the most popular,” the company said.
“The website is completely free of malware, fraud and malware detection, and it offers real-time searches that include the latest market data, real estate data and real estate properties in the area you’re interested in.”
The FBI and U.