Former business partners divided by legal troubles

It was a business opportunity that just couldn’t miss: an exclusive contract to run the only place to get a cup of coffee or a sandwich in the busy downtown Las Vegas Regional Justice Center.

But miss it did. In fact, it was such a bad deal that no experienced restaurant operator wanted any part of it.

Now, nearly seven years after a trio of political insiders — builder Leon Benzer, lawyer David Amesbury and former police Lt. Benjamin Kim — were given what they thought would be a license to print money, the former partners are mired in an epic legal dispute. And that fight is overshadowed by the fact that all three may be charged in an unrelated federal investigation of fraud and corruption involving homeowners associations across the Las Vegas Valley.

Dissolution of any partnership is bound to be traumatic, but consider this: Amesbury reportedly is cooperating with prosecutors and trying to work out a plea deal, which could mean testifying against Benzer, a chief target of the HOA investigation.

Benzer filed suit earlier this month against Amesbury, accusing him of hijacking their failed partnership, Courthouse Cafe LLC. Benzer also accuses Amesbury, the company’s managing partner and former lawyer, of legal malpractice and theft of company funds.

"He was supposed to be looking out for the interests of the company, but he failed miserably to do that," said Benzer’s lawyer, Sigal Chattah. "We don’t know what this guy was doing with the company the past four years."

Amesbury has gone to court seeking a receiver to oversee the Courthouse Cafe’s dwindling assets. He charges that Benzer abandoned the business to avoid paying his share of its financial obligations.

Amesbury accuses Kim in his court papers of letting his mortgage company foreclose on a home he put up as collateral for a $1 million construction loan the partners took out. Amesbury charges Benzer also has allowed his home to slip into foreclosure.

Amesbury says he is the only partner "who continues to work toward a resolution to this unmanageable financial situation."

In hindsight, the situation was financially unmanageable from the start.


The three partners, none with significant experience in the restaurant business, incorporated the Courthouse Cafe in September 2004, and quickly won the contract for the courthouse eatery.

Amesbury said both he and Kim, a longtime friend, got the idea to bid on the project after hearing it discussed around the courthouse, where Amesbury and his wife, Victoria Villegas, a chief deputy district attorney, often can be found.

Amesbury said the two men needed someone to handle construction of the restaurant inside the courthouse and were introduced to Benzer through Kim’s girlfriend, Lisa Nicklin, who later became his wife . Benzer became a partner, as well.

Competition for the county’s business, it turns out, wasn’t stiff. Clark County had solicited management proposals from 21 different businesses, including some of the biggest food service firms in town, but only the Courthouse Cafe responded with a proposal.

One firm, California-based Compass Group, which has restaurants at University Medical Center and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in its business portfolio, wrote back saying the operating expenses needed to maintain the facility under the county’s financial requirements would essentially not make the venture profitable for the company.

Amesbury said he now understands why no one else wanted the contract.

He said the county required bidders to pay the full cost of finishing out raw space in the courthouse, and required a full-service restaurant open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., forcing the added expense of having two shifts of workers instead of one.

The location was better suited as a breakfast bar and sandwich shop, rather than a full-blown restaurant, Amesbury said. Business dropped dramatically by 2 p.m.

"In retrospect, we were suckers," Amesbury said. "We thought we were competing with the likes of Marriott and the other big caterers and were going to make money."

Benzer and Amesbury agree on one thing in their court papers: The county exaggerated its revenue projections for the restaurant, dooming the business from the day it opened in January 2006.

The restaurant never saw the predicted foot traffic or steady flow of food orders from juries, and it had to deal with additional large construction expenses because of the courthouse’s design flaws.

Those problems would stress any partner­ship, but relations began to sour after FBI agents executed search warrants across the Las Vegas Valley in the HOA investigation in the fall of 2008.


Authorities say all three partners were involved in a scheme to rig HOA board elections to push for construction defect lawsuits against builders. Legal work and multimillion-dollar repair contracts then would be funneled to participating lawyers and companies.

No charges have been filed in the investigation, but Justice Department lawyers from Washington are said to be working out plea deals with 25 to 30 targets and expect to seek indictments for as many as two dozen high-level players.

Amesbury represented one of the HOA boards under federal scrutiny. Investigators believe Benzer’s Silver Lining Construction company obtained construction defect contracts in the scheme. And Kim’s wife ran Platinum Community Services, an HOA management company that was searched in the 2008 FBI raid.

The relationship between the three men deteriorated further, along with the operations of the restaurant, as word surfaced about Amesbury’s cooperation with federal authorities.

Then in January, as business continued to slide, Amesbury struck a deal to let Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, a national franchise based in Las Vegas, take over the county lease, officially ending the Courthouse Cafe’s stormy reign at the courthouse.

Capriotti’s is now doing a brisk business, gleefully handling long lunchtime lines.


While no longer in the restaurant business, the Courthouse Cafe partnership remains mired in financial problems. The company owes thousands of dollars in state and federal taxes, and faces foreclosure on the $1 million construction loan.

Benzer and Amesbury now speak to each other only through their lawyers. Neither partner claims to have had any recent contact with Kim, who reportedly took a stress-related retirement from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department last year.

"Disagreements between the board members and in-fighting amongst the board members have brought the daily operations of the LLC to a complete standstill," Amesbury wrote in court papers in January asking for the receiver to sort out the financial mess.

District Judge Kathleen Delaney has refused to appoint a receiver, concluding that Amesbury failed to state any claims that would allow her to take action.

Further heightening tension between the partners is Benzer’s lawsuit, which Amesbury said he plans to respond to in court.

Benzer, seeking at least $4.5 million in punitive damages, contends Amesbury refuses to show him the company’s books. He alleges Amesbury has "misappropriated" and "commingled" LLC funds for personal use, "rendering the company on the brink of collapse."

Benzer also accuses Amesbury of mishandling a 2008 lawsuit against the county over boiler room problems that closed the cafe for several weeks while misleading him to believe the "multi­million-dollar lawsuit would be settled with both monetary concessions and specific performance that would benefit the cafe and its individual members."

Records show Amesbury settled the county lawsuit in January for $5,202, without consulting Benzer.

Contact Jeff German at or 702-380-8135.

VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
16-year-old shot in North Las Vegas
A 16-year-old was hospitalized but was expected to survive after a shooting in North Las Vegas, near Centennial Parkway and Fifth Street, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. North Las Vegas police spokesman Aaron Patty gives an update. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
3-year-old boy shot in North Las Vegas
North Las Vegas Police Officer Aaron Patty talks about an accidental shooting that left a 3-year-old boy “fighting for his life” on Nov. 10, 2018.
Senior Citizen Carjacking Attack -- 3 Suspects Sought
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police detectives are seeking the public's assistance in identifying the three attackers who carjacked and beat a 78-year-old man near Fremont and east Charleston on Tuesday. (LVMPD)
Henderson Police Department Chief Latesha Watson Talks Change
11-year-old girl shot, killed in North Las Vegas
An 11-year-old girl is dead after she was struck by gunfire Thursday night during a shooting in North Las Vegas
North Las Vegas police on deadly shooting
North Las Vegas police spokesman Eric Leavitt briefs the media about a shooting that left an 11-year-old girl dead on Nov. 1, 2018. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stephan Bonnar DUI Arrest
Stephan Bonnar arrested for DUI in Nevada.
Family members of murder victims talk about their loss
Family members of murder victims talk about their loss. Susan Nash, 52, was killed in a shooting along with her daughter and one of her three sons on Sunday night. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Sayegh Cold Case Turns 40
Cary Sayegh was abducted from the playground of the Albert Einstein Hebrew Day School in Las Vegas in 1978. His body has never been found. (File Photo)
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vehicle of Interest in January Homicide
Las Vegas police released footage Friday of a “vehicle of interest” from a deadly shooting in January. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Hostage escapes clutches of robber before shooting
Metropolitan Police Department footage shows a man wearing a motorcycle helmet, identified by police as 27-year-old Mario B. Trejo, with one arm wrapped around a woman’s neck and held a handgun to her head.
Sunset Park Vigil
A small group of people gathered in Sunset Park to remember the three children recently killed in the area.
Henderson police bodycam footage of officer-involved shooting
Henderson police released body-worn camera footage of an officer-involved shooting in a grocery store parking lot at 2667 Windmill Parkway on Aug. 12, 2018. (Henderson Police Department)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like