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Key defendant pleads guilty in HOA takeover scheme

Another key defendant pleaded guilty Tuesday in the scheme to take over and defraud Las Vegas-area homeowners associations.

Bail bondsman Charles McChesney, 49, who is not in custody, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and three wire fraud counts, all felonies. Federal prosecutors are recommending dismissing 11 other wire fraud counts against McChesney.

He is to be sentenced on July 20 by U.S. District Judge James Mahan.

Prosecutors have alleged that McChesney was a straw buyer and controlled HOA board members in the massive takeover conspiracy that occurred between 2003 and 2009. He admitted in his plea agreement that he also participated in dirty tricks to help elect board members who could be controlled by the conspirators.

The conspirators, through election rigging and other dirty tricks, packed association boards with members who handed out legal and construction defect contracts worth millions of dollars at the expense of the homeowners.

The plea agreement allows McChesney to cooperate, if needed, against the remaining defendants in the high-profile case. Prosecutors will recommend a lighter sentence in response to his acceptance of responsibility and cooperation.

Last week former construction company boss Leon Benzer, who prosecutors say was behind the scheme, pleaded guilty to 19 conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion counts in two separate federal indictments.

The pleas of both men leave four defendants, including attorney Keith Gregory and Benzer’s half-sister Edith Gillespie, to stand trial Feb. 23.

In his plea agreement, Benzer provided a lengthy explanation of his leadership in the multi­million-dollar takeover scheme involving 11 HOAs across the valley.

Benzer, who once owned Silver Lining Construction Company, McChesney and 9 others were indicted in the scheme in January 2013.

Five of the 10 defendants indicted with Benzer, including attorney Barry Levinson, previously pleaded guilty and are waiting to be sentenced.

The sweeping investigation that led to the indictment, spearheaded by the Justice Department’s Fraud Section in Washington, is thought to be the largest public corruption case federal authorities have brought in Southern Nevada. The FBI, Las Vegas police and IRS all played key roles in the long-running investigation.

In all, 37 defendants have now pleaded guilty since August 2011. Most are cooperating and waiting to be sentenced after the trial.

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

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