Christian businessman’s ‘burden’ heavy

It was a good morning for a confession.

But if those who assembled early for the Christian Businessmen’s Network breakfast at the Tournament Players Club in Summerlin expected to hear Republican political consultant Steve Wark come clean about his role in the ongoing homeowners association and construction defect litigation scandal, they came away disappointed.

Wark was invited to address the conservative Christian group to participate in friendly fellowship and offer his recap of election 2012. For the better part of an hour Wark did just that, weaving biblical references and the occasional one-liner with his political worldview. Namely, that Republicans believe in smaller government and Democrats in larger government.

He also spoke of the Christian businessman’s “burden” of providing not only for his family, but also securing jobs and paychecks for his employees.

“We carry that burden with us,” he said to nodding affirmation. He added, “I’m not so sure that that’s not the way that the Lord has positioned us.”

Wark paraphrased Jeremiah and noted that, election results aside, it was incumbent upon Christian conservatives to stay the course and be mindful that, like the Israelites of old, they now find themselves in exile.

“That should be comforting to anybody who is wondering what it feels like to be in exile,” Wark said. “As a businessman, especially if you got into business years ago, not too long ago you felt like the world was your oyster, there were no limits, and entrepreneurial spirit that built America for so long” would last forever.

Although he didn’t take the time to apply it to his personal life, exile is something the 54-year-old Wark is learning something about these days.

The political insider cut a deal early in the HOA investigation and on Aug. 30, 2011, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a single felony count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. As part of his agreement with the government, Wark admitted that in May 2005 he became part of a complex fraud scheme to take control of local HOA boards in an effort to steer millions in construction defect-related litigation and construction to other members of the conspiracy.

The veteran Republican campaign operative admitted he helped rig HOA board elections, forged ballots, received cash and even became a 1 percent owner of a Vistana condominium in an effort to influence the board.

That’s only part of what makes Wark such an integral player in the FBI and Metro investigation. He also was a friend and business partner with the multimillion-dollar criminal conspiracy’s central figure, Silver Lining Construction owner Leon Benzer, who was indicted last week along with a dozen others.

Although they aren’t palling around these days, there was a time Benzer and Wark were as thick as thieves.

Wark brought up none of that in his chat with the Christian breakfast club. He was so warmly received that I suspected he didn’t want the morning to end. Afterward, he shook hands and chatted with small-business owners and retirees who shared his faith and his political philosophy. A proud new father, he laughed that he played “Mr. Mom for a couple hours every day.”

In short, he was in his element as the meeting broke up.

But nothing spoils a morning of Christian fellowship and political punditry like a visit from a newspaper columnist. I paid my money, ate my scrambled eggs, and wondered when Wark would get around to bearing witness to his substantial role in one of the biggest scandals in Las Vegas history.

So far, 28 people have pleaded guilty and four have died of suspected suicide under the pressure of the prosecution being brought by the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division Fraud Section as part of President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

Would he have any comments?

“I probably can’t do that until after May 16th,” Wark said, referring to his sentencing date. Although he faces up to 30 years in prison, he is expected to receive a light sentence in exchange for his cooperation. “I would only say this, and this is probably being a little introspective. Probably a lack of wisdom and discernment, and good choices.”

Are you talking about yourself or the group?

“Me,” he replied.

It was clear the words were coming painfully.

“The choices that we make have significant, significant results,” Wark continued. “And we learn from those. You make amends. And you move on.”

Before he moves on, there is some significant unfinished business in the form of an indictment against Benzer and at least a dozen others. At the time of the interview, the Benzer indictment was pending.

Did he want to comment on the case or his personal and business relationship with Benzer?

“The last thing that anybody would recommend that I do is talk to the press, most notably John L. Smith,” the political consultant said.

Careful. I blush easily.

A few moments passed.

“I misjudged character,” Wark said. “It’s one of the prices you pay for a lack of wisdom and discernment is misjudging character.”

Although I knew the answer, I had to ask whether Wark was continuing to fully cooperate with the investigation.

“Yes,” he said.

With that, he left the mostly friendly confines of the Christian breakfast group. Although they didn’t hear it that morning, Wark will be confessing his legal sins under oath soon enough.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Smith.

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