A former homeowners association board member became the sixth defendant Thursday to plead guilty in the far-reaching federal investigation into fraud and corruption at local associations.
Edward Lugo, who served on the board of the Park Avenue condominium complex in the south valley, entered a guilty plea in federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
Senior U.S. District Judge Lloyd George set a March 22 sentencing.
In a 14-page plea agreement, Lugo admitted playing a role in the massive scheme to stack homeowners association boards with members who pushed for construction defect lawsuits against builders. A dozen homeowners associations have been dragged into the investigation.
Lugo, 47, who lives in the Los Angeles area, admitted in the agreement that his participation began as early as August 2003 and ended in February 2009.
He admitted becoming a "straw purchaser" to get elected to the Park Avenue homeowners association board, as well as helping rig various association elections and managing a "bill pay program" for his co-conspirators that funded other straw buyers around the Las Vegas Valley.
Lugo created several limited liability companies at the direction of one co-conspirator, an unidentified construction company owner, "for the purpose of opening bank accounts and concealing the funds for the Bill Pay Program," according to federal court documents unsealed in his case Thursday.
While living in California, the documents alleged, Lugo used the companies to make payments on condominium units purchased by straw buyers with money he received from the construction company owner.
Lugo also received phony ballots in California from his co-conspirators and then mailed them back to Las Vegas in the election-rigging effort, the documents alleged.
In court Thursday, Lugo acknowledged that he might have to pay as much as $445,000 in restitution to lenders he defrauded in the straw buyer scheme.
When George asked him how he pleaded, he responded, "Guilty, your honor."
Afterward, Lugo and his Los Angeles lawyer, Edward Robinson, both declined comment.
Park Avenue homeowners recalled Lugo and another former board member, ex-police Capt. Frank Sutton, a month after a joint FBI-Las Vegas police raid in the investigation in September 2008. Sutton has not been charged.
Lugo's plea is the latest in a long line of deals expected in the high-profile case.
Lawyers from the Justice Department's fraud section in Washington, D.C., plan to file as many as two dozen criminal cases in the coming weeks. Four trial attorneys, led by Deputy Chief Charles La Bella, are prosecuting the case. The Nevada U.S. attorney's office has removed itself to avoid a potential conflict.
Lugo and the other defendants who have pleaded guilty have agreed to testify for prosecutors in their push to indict higher-level players, who include lawyers, judges and former police officers.
With the help of friendly homeowners association board members, lucrative legal work and repair contracts were funneled to lawyers and companies associated with the scheme at the expense of the homeowners, who were deprived of honest voting on their boards, court documents have alleged.
The board members were straw purchasers elected by the co-conspirators through classic dirty campaigning that included conducting phony polling, hiring private investigators to dig up dirt on candidates and rigging the balloting, the documents alleged.
Last week, Angela Esparza, 24, a property management company employee, pleaded guilty in the case and admitted helping rig elections at several homeowners associations, including Park Avenue.
Esparza admitted removing ballots from an attorney's office so that the ballots would not be counted.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135.