Federal prosecutors rested their case Wednesday without calling key witnesses in the trial of four defendants charged in the massive scheme to take over and defraud homeowners associations.
Defense lawyers began calling their own witnesses, including a defendant, longtime attorney Keith Gregory.
Neither former construction company boss Leon Benzer, the scheme’s mastermind who pleaded guilty several weeks before the trial, nor Mike Elliott, the lead FBI agent in the long-running investigation, testified.
Benzer, who is waiting sentencing, was expected to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Gregory, one of Benzer’s former civil attorneys, and the three other defendants are standing trial on conspiracy and fraud charges before U.S. District Judge James Mahan.
The other defendants are Benzer’s half-sister Edith Gillespie, who allegedly recruited straw buyers; Salvatore Ruvolo, who prosecutors say was a Benzer-controlled HOA board member at Park Avenue and Chateau Nouveau; and David Ball, who Benzer is alleged to have placed on the Chateau Nouveau board.
Defense lawyers contend the four defendants were not part of the scheme and consider themselves victims of Benzer.
In his testimony, Gregory, who choked up on the witness stand, said for years he considered Benzer a “very kind and very generous” man.
“I had no reason not to trust him.” Gregory said.
Prosecutors have alleged that Gregory was Benzer’s “go-to” guy, helping his Silver Lining Construction Company seek lucrative contracts for repair work.
At Vistana, Gregory helped Benzer obtain a $7.2 million construction defect contract while being paid by both Benzer and the HOA, prosecutors contend.
Gregory testified that Benzer didn’t pay him enough for dealing with Vistana’s infighting and a community manager who was in “la-la land.”
His testimony resumes Thursday.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter @JGermanRJ.