14 new plea deals filed in Las Vegas-area HOA fraud case


A former community management company owner married to an ex-cop, an attorney who once worked for a high-powered law firm and a disbarred lawyer facing felony embezzlement charges are among the latest defendants pleading guilty in the federal homeowners association investigation.

Federal prosecutors have filed 14 more plea agreements under seal in the investigation, which is focusing on allegations of fraud and corruption at nearly a dozen associations across the Las Vegas Valley.

The 14 new defendants have agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and are being named in a single charging document as part of a group deal, according to copies of sealed federal court papers obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

In all, 24 people have struck plea agreements in the far-reaching scheme to take control of the homeowners associations.

One defendant who previously pleaded guilty, Las Vegas attorney David Amesbury, 57, was found dead March 25 near Sacramento, Calif., of an apparent hanging and will be dropped from the case.

Prosecutors Charles La Bella and Mary Ann McCarthy of the Justice Department's Fraud Section in Washington, D.C., laid out the scheme in their court papers seeking to unseal the new cases.

"As charged and admitted in the filed plea agreements, the conspirators, through a coordinated scheme to control the HOAs' boards of directors, general counsel and property managers, instructed the board members to vote in a particular manner that was in the interests of the conspirators," they wrote.

"This included designating lawyers to handle construction defect litigation at the condominium complexes, construction companies to perform construction defect repair work and emergency repair work, attorneys to advise the particular HOA board and community management companies to manage the condominium properties."

Those striking deals include Lisa Kim, who once ran Platinum Community Services, a homeowners association management company raided early in the investigation in September 2008. Kim is the wife of retired Las Vegas police Lt. Benjamin Kim, a major target who is among those still negotiating a plea deal. Her lawyer, Charles Kelly, declined to comment Monday.

Also named as a new defendant is attorney Brian Jones, who worked for the now-dissolved law firm Kummer, Kaempfer, Bonner, Renshaw & Ferrario. His lawyer, Chris Aaron, could not be reached for comment. The politically connected firm broke up in 2009, and Jones is said to be practicing law in Utah.

Another defendant striking a plea deal is former lawyer Jeanne Winkler, who was disbarred in November over allegations that she had misappropriated about $233,000 from her client trust account. Winkler was arrested and charged with theft and embezzlement last year. Her Salt Lake City lawyer in the federal investigation, Jeremy Delicino, could not be reached for comment.

Both Jones and Winkler did legal work for the Vistana homeowners association. Jones is accused in civil litigation involving Vistana of helping rig the association's board elections.

EX-BOARD MEMBERS AMONG DEFENDANTS

Three former Vistana board members, ex-Las Vegas police officer Morris Mattingly, Charles Hawkins and Patrick Bergsrud, also are among the 14 new defendants, the government's court papers disclosed. Hawkins' lawyer, Patricia Palm, declined to comment. Attorneys Andrew Leavitt and Tom Ericsson, who represent Mattingly and Bergsrud, respectively, could not be reached for comment.

Another new defendant, Paul Citelli, has a 1994 federal drug conviction in a case that involved 16 defendants, some of whom were suspected of having organized crime ties. Citelli, who now works as a limousine driver, is alleged to have been a straw buyer in the homeowners association scheme. His lawyer, David Brown, declined to comment.

The other defendants pleading guilty, according to prosecutors, are Rosalio Alcantar, Robert Bolten, Glenn Brown, Michelle DeLuca, Sami Robert Hindiyeh, Arnold Myers and Anthony Roy Wilson.

The investigation is continuing, and more plea deals are in the works, La Bella and McCarthy said in their court papers.

"The government anticipates filing several more guilty plea agreements as part of this group plea, but will file separate charging documents in connection with those cases," they explained.

PROSECUTORS WANT DEALS CONSOLIDATED

La Bella, a Fraud Section deputy chief, and McCarthy are asking that the latest charges and plea deals be made public and consolidated under one federal judge to help move the cases more quickly through the court system. The 10 previous cases are before five different federal judges.

The federal prosecutors said lawyers for the 14 new defendants all support unsealing and consolidating the cases.

The new agreements have been assigned to U.S. District Judge James Mahan, who set a May 3 date to accept the pleas in court.

Though they have not been named in any federal court documents, wealthy construction defects attorney Nancy Quon and former construction company boss Leon Benzer are alleged to have pulled the strings in the conspiracy.

Quon, 51, was found dead in the bathtub of her Henderson condominium March 20, five days before Amesbury's body was discovered. Authorities do not suspect foul play in either death.

Benzer has had discussions with prosecutors about striking a deal, but he remains a key target of the investigation.

"The conspirators gained control of the HOA boards by using straw buyers to buy condominiums in the targeted complexes or by transferring condominiums or some percentage of ownership in the condominiums to designated co-conspirators in exchange for down payments, monthly mortgage payments and monthly condominium association fee payments made by the criminal enterprise," the Justice Department lawyers said in their court papers.

The banks financing the purchases, La Bella and McCarthy explained, were never told that the straw buyers weren't making the mortgage payments.

The straw buyers would run for the homeowner association boards and get elected through dirty campaign tactics that included stuffing ballot boxes, the prosecutors wrote.

Once the conspirators elected enough members to control the boards, the friendly members would win votes to hire lawyers, construction companies and property managers that were owned, controlled or aligned with the conspirators. The new board members then would be paid to further the financial interests of the conspirators.

Vistana in southwest Las Vegas has independently alleged in court documents that it was deceived into paying millions for shoddy repair work and work that was never done.

In the latest group plea deal, the 14 defendants are agreeing to cooperate in the investigation and pay restitution.

Prosecutors are promising to recommend lighter sentences for those participating in the group plea.

Since August, when prosecutors cranked up the high-profile investigation after more than three years of sifting through evidence, five former homeowners association board members and four community management company employees joined Amesbury in pleading guilty.

GOP STRATEGIST WAS STRAW BUYER

Among those who previously entered a plea is longtime Republican strategist Steve Wark, a Vistana straw buyer who got elected to its board. Wark also served as a political consultant in the scheme.

Additional lawyers and former police officers are among those yet to be charged. Some are still negotiating plea deals. Judges originally were targeted in the investigation, but so far none have been charged.

Prosecutors have the option of taking evidence to a federal grand jury against the targets who have not cooperated.

Court documents unsealed in the case so far have bared wrongdoing at half of the dozen homeowners associations named in the investigation.

In addition to Vistana, Sunset Cliffs in the southwest valley, Chateau Versailles in the northwest and Park Avenue in the south are among the associations prosecutors have identified as victims.

Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@review journal.com or 702-380-8135.

 

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