Mountains of evidence push trial in HOA scheme to 2014

The federal trial of former construction boss Leon Benzer, suspected of being the mastermind of the scheme to take over Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations, has been pushed back to the spring of 2014.

At a hearing Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr. ordered a new trial date so that prosecutors and defense lawyers have more time to deal with the massive amount of evidence in the high-profile case.

Foley said he would consult U.S. District Judge James Mahan, who will preside over the trial, before setting a firm date.

Thomas Hall, a trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Fraud Section in Washington, told Foley the government is preparing to turn over several million pages of electronic documents.

There also are more than 750,000 pages of “hard copy” documents seized in a September 2008 FBI raid and audio recordings, FBI reports, grand jury transcripts and transcripts of recorded witness interviews, according to court papers filed this week.

Hall said prosecutors hope to turn over all of the evidence by June 1. The court has hired a technical consultant to help speed the process.

Benzer, the former owner of Silver Lining Construction Company, and 10 others were indicted in January in the homeowners association scheme, which took place between 2003 and 2009. The defendants face conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud charges.

Nearly 40 conspirators have been charged in the scheme. A total of 29 defendants have pleaded guilty, and most are awaiting sentencing after Benzer’s trial. Many are cooperating with prosecutors and are expected to testify.

What has been revealed in federal court documents s a vast conspiracy to swindle 11 homeowners associations out of millions of dollars.

Prosecutors have alleged Benzer, 46, and the late construction defects lawyer Nancy Quon pulled the strings in the scheme. Quon committed suicide last March under the weight of the investigation. She was not charged at the time.

Benzer and Quon, 51, funneled more than $8 million through secret bank accounts to help them land lucrative legal and construction contracts from the homeowners associations, prosecutors have alleged.

Getting straw buyers elected to the association boards was the key to the scheme because Benzer and Quon needed votes to steer construction defect business their way, according to prosecutors.

Benzer recruited straw buyers, employed real estate agents to find them condominiums, and secretly paid their mortgages, court documents show.

Lawyers, community management company employees, private investigators and former police officers were among those enlisted to stack association boards that later would reward Benzer and Quon with millions of dollars in contracts.

Benzer is accused of not providing the quality repair work he promised.

The takeovers were alleged to have been accomplished through dirty tricks, election rigging and bribery.

In February, former Benzer confidant Ralph Priola became the latest defendant to plead guilty.

Priola, 46, acknowledged playing a central role in the takeover scheme and is likely to be a star government witness at Benzer’s trial.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.