SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah company that track down heirs to unclaimed inheritances has won a legal battle with federal prosecutors who alleged the firm engaged in anti-competitive practices by conspiring with industry players so they would not have to compete with each other.
Prosecutors failed to prove that that the business ties Kemp & Associates, based in Salt Lake City, maintained with other inheritance tracking firms stifled competition, U.S. District Judge David Sam ruled Monday.
Sam also said an agreement for the companies to work together may have increased efficiency instead of driving up costs for heirs with rights to unclaimed money.
Finally, the judge ruled that the agreement between the companies had expired in 2008 and a statute of limitations for prosecutors to bring charges based on the agreement had ended.
Mark Abueg, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, declined comment Tuesday on the decision and whether prosecutors would appeal.
James Mitchell, a lawyer for the 50-year-old company, said it was pleased with the ruling.
The company searches for people who may have rights to estates they are unaware of, often from long-lost relatives.
Prosecutors had accused the company and vice president Daniel Mannix of antitrust crimes punishable by up to $1 million or prison time.
The heir-finding companies have workers who sift through will probate filings, searching for people who recently died and may have missing or unknown heirs.
Using court records, genealogical documents and other public data, they track down possible beneficiaries and reach out to them — offering to help them document their connections to the dead and claim money that would otherwise go to the state.
The company charges a fee to the heirs when they get proceeds from the estates.
The companies typically don’t tell clients the names of the deceased or possible inheritance amounts until the clients sign contracts.
A wider probe into the sector led by Chicago prosecutors resulted in plea deals with a California company and two executives.
Prosecutors had said Kemp and Mannix colluded with one those executives, though their lawyers denied any wrongdoing.