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Lawyer convicted in HOA takeover scheme to continue legal practice

A federal judge Thursday denied a government request to bar convicted attorney Keith Gregory from practicing law while he waits to be sentenced in a high-profile scheme to defraud and take over homeowners associations in the Las Vegas Valley.

Gregory, 61, who specializes in construction law, was convicted with three other defendants last week by a federal jury on conspiracy count and wire fraud charges following a three-week trial. He is to be sentenced on June 17.

U.S. District Judge James Mahan, who presided over the trial, said from the bench Thursday that he wanted to let the disciplinary process unfold with Gregory before the State Bar of Nevada.

Gregory told Mahan he essentially has “stepped away” from his law practice. He has informed the State Bar about his conviction and written letters to his clients telling them he expects to be suspended and they need to find another lawyer.

State Bar Counsel David Clark said after the hearing that he is attempting to get a copy of Gregory’s conviction and will file it with the Nevada Supreme Court. By its rules, the court will then temporarily suspend Gregory and refer the case back to the bar for sanctions.

Gregory’s lawyers opposed the government’s request, arguing he needs the next three months to wind down his law practice.

But Charles La Bella, the lead Justice prosecutor in the case, said in court papers that allowing Gregory to do that would be an “invitation to larceny” and a chance for him to “fleece another client.”

Any funds Gregory receives from closing out his practice should be set aside for the victims of the HOA takeover scheme, La Bella said.

The multimillion-dollar HOA scheme was carried out between 2003 and 2009 by former construction company boss Leon Benzer and the late construction defects lawyer Nancy Quon. Benzer pleaded guilty earlier this year.

Federal prosecutors alleged during trial that Gregory was a “double agent” for Benzer — paid as Benzer’s lawyer and as general counsel for HOA boards Benzer was trying to take over.

In his own defense during the trial Gregory denied a conflict of interest, saying he simply liked to be paid for his time. He called himself the “happy biller.”

His services were crucial in helping Benzer obtain more than $7 million in construction defect work at the Vistana condominium complex, according to prosecutors.

The takeover scheme targeted as many as 11 HOAs and had a formula to take over the boards, prosecutors alleged. Straw buyers were recruited to obtain condominiums and some were elected to the boards through ballot-box stuffing and dirty tricks so they could help Benzer and Quon obtain lucrative contracts.

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

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