Suspicions create mystery around death of lawyer

The brother and estranged wife of troubled Las Vegas lawyer David Amesbury suspected foul play in his death last year but could not substantiate their concerns, an FBI report shows.

The report, which was made public last week, also describes how the brother found Amesbury hanging from a rafter with a noose around his neck in a small workshop on the brother’s Northern California property on March 25, 2012.

No suicide note was left and all of Amesbury’s personal emails had been erased.

The suspicions raised by the brother, Tom Amesbury, and the late attorney’s wife, former Chief Deputy District Attorney Victoria Villegas, created an aura of mystery around the death at the time. Villegas also told the brother that she felt her life was in danger.

Amesbury, 57, had pleaded guilty and was cooperating in the long-running federal investigation into corruption at Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations. His death came five days after the body of high-profile construction defects lawyer Nancy Quon, a key target of the investigation, was found in the bathtub of her Henderson condominium.

Eventually, county coroners in both states ruled the two deaths suicides, and investigators here later publicly said there was “no conspiracy” behind the deaths and those of two other players who died earlier in the investigation under unusual circumstances.

Months before Amesbury died, he was discovered badly beaten in a gated Henderson neighborhood.

Amesbury initially told investigators from his hospital bed that he thought the assault was related to the home­owners probe, but he recanted that statement and ended up befuddling investigators with several different versions of what had happened to him, another FBI report shows.

In one version investigators ended up discounting, Amesbury said he was depressed over his federal plea and went to a Henderson park to overdose on Xanax, but was assaulted there by three men wearing black hoods.

Amesbury, however, could not explain how he wound up in his underwear several miles away outside his parked truck in the Henderson neighborhood.

The lawyer was questioned about his sexual orientation after investigators learned that he told his brother at the hospital that he had been raped during the assault, the report says.

Amesbury denied telling his brother that he was raped, but consented to a medical rape examination.

He acknowledged meeting a gay man on Craigslist a week before the assault, but denied that he had gone to the park for a sexual encounter with the man, the report states.

“Amesbury advised that he had never been with a man before, but was in fact curious and had been on several gay Internet websites recently,” FBI agent Mike Elliott wrote in the report.

Defense lawyer Chris Rasmussen filed the two FBI reports, both written by Elliott, with court papers last week seeking to try his client, Edith Gillespie, separately from her half-brother, former construction company boss Leon Benzer.

Federal prosecutors have called Benzer the “mastermind” of a scheme to take over 11 homeowners associations between 2003 and 2009.

Gillespie, 51, and Benzer, 46, were indicted in January with nine others in the Justice Department’s final push to charge conspirators in the massive scheme that so far has resulted in 29 convictions.

Prosecutors have alleged that Benzer and Quon, 51, led the scheme to stack association boards to obtain millions of dollars in construction defect and legal contracts.

Amesbury had been a partner with Benzer in a courthouse restaurant at the Regional Justice Center. The partner­ship, which included a retired Las Vegas police lieutenant, was the subject of a separate federal bank fraud investigation.

On the Sunday evening of Amesbury’s suicide, his brother told Elliott that the death had caught him by surprise.

Tom Amesbury said his brother had moved into his home in Grass Valley, Calif., a small town outside Sacramento, to heal from the brutal assault and beat a bout of depression following his guilty plea, the collapse of his law practice and the pending divorce from his wife.

According to Elliott’s report, the brothers had spent Saturday together getting a haircut and playing racquetball at a local health club. Tom Amesbury felt that David was doing well enough to leave him alone at the house for the first time while he and his wife went on a short overnight getaway to Sacramento.

Upon the couple’s return Sunday night, the report states, a shocked Amesbury found his brother, dressed in tan pants and a blue University of Nevada sweatshirt, hanging from a ceiling beam in the workshop. Amesbury cut his brother down and called 911. Paramedics said he had been dead for several hours and were unable to revive him.

Amesbury told Elliott that he saw no signs of a break-in or struggle at the home or the shop, but he found it odd that his brother had left the family computer on and that all of his emails had been deleted.

A few days earlier, Amesbury said, his home was broken into and jewelry, a watch and other items were stolen from a safe.

His brother seemed “extremely worried” about the break-in but would not explain why, Amesbury indicated.

“Tom Amesbury advised that in his opinion the death of David was very suspicious and, therefore, he suspected ‘foul play,’ ” the report says. “However, when questioned in detail regarding this statement, Tom Amesbury could not provide any evidence, proof or other facts to support this assertion.”

Amesbury also had a conversation with Villegas, who had been fired from the district attorney’s office three weeks earlier, about the deaths of both his brother and Quon, according to the report.

“During the conversation, Villegas advised that she suspected ‘foul play’ in both Quon’s and David’s deaths but she did not provide any specifics or evidence as to why she believed this,” the report states.

Villegas told Amesbury several times that she was being followed by someone who was not in law enforcement and that she was worried about her safety, but she did not provide any specifics, the report explains.

While she was a prosecutor, Villegas had come under federal scrutiny over her husband’s dealings with Benzer at the Courthouse Cafe, but she was not charged.

Tom Amesbury indicated that he also had talked to his brother “repeatedly” about the Nov. 17, 2011, beating he received in Henderson.

“To the very end, David did not say what happened,” the report says. “Rather, he simply stated that he could not recall and/or understand what had happened to him that night.

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