Accused HOA mastermind denied second public defender

A federal magistrate has denied a request for a second publicly funded defense lawyer for Leon Benzer, the accused mastermind of the scheme to take over Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations.

Benzer’s current court-appointed attorney, Daniel Albregts, argued in court papers that the second lawyer was needed to help him deal with the mountain of evidence in the high-profile case.

Court-appointed attorneys receive $110 an hour from a special defender’s fund overseen by the federal courts.

Albregts wanted permission from U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr. to add former Federal Public Defender Franny Forsman to Benzer’s defense team at taxpayer expense.

But federal prosecutors, who recently reported that they have provided 3.4 million pages of investigative documents to the defense, filed court papers opposing the request.

Foley issued an order Wednesday siding with the prosecutors, who are seeking roughly $25 million in restitution from Benzer and the other defendants in the case.

“While this case is complex and the discovery is voluminous,” Foley wrote, “defendant’s counsel should be able to prepare and provide an adequate defense with the assistance of appropriate paralegal and other support services to organize and review the voluminous discovery.”

Albregts said Thursday he would appeal Foley’s order to U.S. District Judge James Mahan, who is presiding over Benzer’s case.

Earlier this year, Foley appointed Seattle attorney Russell Aoki as a technical consultant to help electronically distribute the massive amount of evidence the FBI has collected in the long-running investigation.

Prosecutors with the Justice Department’s Fraud Section in Washington reported that they also have supplied the defense with 208 audio files, six audio CDs, 33 video files and 1,731 investigative photographs. An undercover operation was part of the FBI-Las Vegas police investigation, which began in November 2007.

Benzer and 10 others were indicted in January on charges of defrauding 11 homeowners associations out of millions of dollars between 2003 and 2009. Their trial is set for March 3. But at a status hearing before Foley Thursday, both sides acknowledged that the trial is likely to be continued to give defense lawyers more time to deal with the evidence.

The indictment alleges Benzer, the late construction defect lawyer Nancy Quon and others funneled more than $8 million through secret bank accounts to land lucrative legal, construction and community management contracts from the homeowners associations.

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

A total of 29 defendants, so far, have pleaded guilty in the investigation, and most are cooperating with prosecutors against Benzer and his co-defendants.

Quon was never charged in the case. She committed suicide in March 2012.

Contact reporter Jeff German at or 702-380-8135. Followhim on Twitter @JGermanRJ.

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