A Las Vegas Review-Journal article about secret plea negotiations between Leon Benzer and federal prosecutors in the high-profile homeowners association investigation became the focus Monday of a defense bid to get the criminal case tossed out of court.
Daniel Albregts, who represents Benzer, filed court papers accusing Justice Department lawyers of misconduct that allowed the newspaper to obtain what are now sealed FBI and Las Vegas police reports of the failed negotiations in the summer of 2011.
“The government promised that those statements would not be used against him, yet the government, through its actions, insured that the press would come into possession of the statements and use them to further prejudice Benzer’s right to a fair trial,” Albregts wrote.
Albregts said prosecutors promised lawyers for Benzer’s co-defendant, attorney Keith Gregory, that they would not object if the lawyers filed reports of the negotiations under seal in a related matter in September, but then turned around in court and told a federal judge the reports should be made public.
“This conduct, when viewed in the light of the ceaseless and inflammatory reporting, particularly with regard to this defendant, is the kind of conduct which can only be remedied through dismissal,” Albregts wrote.
Prosecutors will get a chance to respond to Albregts in writing
The four investigative reports were filed under seal by Gregory’s lawyers, but after prosecutors argued to make them public, U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr. ordered them unsealed. Two days later, however, Foley allowed Gregory’s lawyers to withdraw the reports from the public record and file them again, under seal.
The Review-Journal obtained the reports while they were public.
The reports detailed Benzer’s admitted involvement in the scheme to take over nearly a dozen Las Vegas Valley HOAs. Benzer discusses how he allegedly corrupted HOA boards through bribery and election rigging to obtain millions of dollars in construction defect repair contracts.
After the Review-Journal informed Albregts on Thursday that it planned to publish an article about the documents on Sunday he filed a motion asking a judge to stop publication. The newspaper then published the article online on Thursday night and ran the story on Page One Friday morning.
Albregts withdrew his motion on Friday.
Benzer, Gregory and four other defendants are to stand trial Feb. 23 on fraud and conspiracy charges stemming from the takeover scheme, which occurred between 2003 and 2009.
Last week, Gregory’s lawyers filed court papers seeking to move the trial out of Las Vegas because of ongoing “prejudicial” media coverage of the case, primarily from the Review-Journal.
“The decibel level and tenor of the pretrial publicity which has surrounded this case has been vivid, unforgettable and blatantly prejudicial to the point that it is for all intents and purposes impossible for defendant Keith Gregory and the other defendants to obtain a fair trial in Clark County, Nevada,” the lawyers wrote.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ.