The head of the District's second-largest real estate auction house was sentenced in federal court yesterday to three months in prison and two years on probation and fined $50,000 for his part in helping to rig the bidding in five auctions of foreclosed property between 1982 and 1985.

"It's theft {from} the poor and the unfortunate, who can't keep up on their mortgage payments," said U.S. District Judge Harold Greene in sentencing Douglas K. Goldsten, 38, president of Goldsten Auctioneers.

In an indictment handed down last July, Goldsten was accused of collaborating with five other longtime Washington real estate investors in a scheme to lower the bids on property that was being sold at auction because of mortgage foreclosures. After the property was sold to one member of the group for an artificially low price, prosecutors said, the group held a second, private auction and divided the profits among themselves.

Greene said that by keeping the public auction price low, the group not only limited the amount banks could recover on the properties, but also deprived financially strapped homeowners of whatever chance they had to recoup some of their investment.

The bid-rigging scheme, which involves six Montgomery County real estate developers, all of whom have pleaded guilty, came to light as a result of an investigation of suspected fraud by local real estate speculators against the Department of Housing and Urban Development, although it was only peripherally linked to the HUD probe.

In connection with that probe, Goldsten's business partner, Richard Grodsky, has pleaded guilty to making false statements to HUD. He was sentenced several weeks ago to three months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

"I know I was wrong and I knew it at the time," Goldsten told Greene at yesterday's hearing. But he asked the judge not to send him to jail, saying, "I feel like the best thing for me would be to keep helping the community" by doing volunteer work.