In a move criticized by former federal prosecutors, defense lawyers in the homeowners association fraud case are looking into whether the Las Vegas Review-Journal improperly obtained now-secret government reports on failed plea negotiations with the lead defendant.
The Review-Journal obtained the reports — which detail the alleged role of former construction company boss Leon Benzer in a massive HOA takeover scheme — from the electronic federal court docket while the reports were public for two days in September.
But Daniel Albregts, the court-appointed lead lawyer for Benzer, indicated in court papers last week that he was trying to confirm that through billing records. He previously argued in court papers that federal prosecutors improperly opened the door for the newspaper to obtain the documents.
“Undersigned counsel is attempting to determine from the (court) billing system whether the Review-Journal actually did obtain the documents —later stricken and sealed — during the two-day window in which they were available on the public docket or whether the documents were provided to them by some other source,” Albregts wrote in his latest papers.
Albregts did not explain how he planned to obtain the Review-Journal’s billing records, and he did not return a phone call for comment.
Federal Court Clerk Lance Wilson said the federal courts’ administrative office has denied requests for billing records without a court order because they consider them private records.
In his court papers, Albregts said he wants the long-running criminal case against his client dismissed because of misconduct committed by Justice Department lawyers that allowed the Review-Journal to obtain four FBI and Las Vegas police reports of interviews with Benzer in 2011.
The Washington-based prosecutors have denied involvement with the release of the reports, which became public because of filing errors by lawyers for one of Benzer’s co-defendants, attorney Keith Gregory.
Former federal prosecutors this week questioned the 11th-hour defense strategy to tie the Review-Journal to alleged government misconduct. The high-profile case heads to trial Feb. 23.
“The defense has a very high burden to show prosecutorial misconduct,” said Paul Padda, who worked on the HOA investigation when it was handled by the Nevada U.S. attorney’s office. “To allege a conspiracy between the government and the media in this case seems extreme and an attempt to divert attention away from errors that may have been committed by others.”
Longtime Washington lawyer Douglas McNabb agreed.
“They’re trying to muck up the case as much as possible to cloud the clarity of the facts,” McNabb said. “They’re trying to make something of it other than what it is. All you did was get access to publicly available documents.”
On Monday, the lawyers again publicly filed the Benzer reports by mistake in a court filing and once more sought to withdraw them from the court record. The reports were public for the second time until Tuesday morning, when Foley ordered them stricken from the record, again.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.