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Familiar faces show up in HOA probe

His friends call Joe Bravo an honorable guy and a gifted businessman who has put the mistakes of his past far behind him.

It’s just a coincidence, they say, that he knows some of the defendants and potential targets in the ongoing investigation of corruption inside the local homeowners associations and construction defect racket.

Who is Joe Bravo?

It’s a question some members of local law enforcement have asked for years. For the record, Joseph Angelo Bravo is a convicted drug trafficker who was sentenced to 87 months in 1993 for his role in a cocaine importing ring with ties to the Buffalo mob.

The Niagara Falls-to-Las Vegas distribution network was accused of distributing 400 kilos of cocaine between 1986 and 1990. A lengthy investigation compiled 2,500 wiretap conversations, recordings whose legality was vigorously but unsuccessfully challenged by defense lawyers Oscar Goodman and David Chesnoff. The 16 defendants pleaded guilty before trial.

I was reminded of that old case May 31 when Paul Citelli entered U.S. District Judge James Mahan’s courtroom and took his place among the 14 latest defendants to plead guilty in the HOA scandal. Citelli, a Southern Nevada limousine driver, was one of Bravo’s partners in the cocaine distribution ring back in the years authorities believed the Buffalo mob was the dominant La Cosa Nostra family on the streets of Las Vegas.

At the time of Citelli’s 1993 sentencing, he apologized to U.S. District Judge Lloyd George for his transgression and received a break. Faced with a potential 27-year prison term, Citelli caught only seven.

Fast-forward 19 years to Mahan’s court: With defense attorney David Brown at his side, Citelli pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and admitted his role in the HOA corruption scheme.

After the hearing, Citelli declined an interview request.

Las Vegas real estate agent Anthony Roy Wilson also pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. He’s Bravo’s nephew.

While other targets in the HOA investigation generated headlines, Wilson blended into the crowd of role players in Mahan’s courtroom. His eventual sentence figures to be light, but Wilson was an integral part of the conspiracy.

In his plea agreement, Wilson admitted his job was to find and fill condominiums with participants in the conspiracy with the goal of seeing them placed on HOA boards. He did his job well, locating 17 units for purchase by straw buyers.

Wilson helped those phony buyers with equally fraudulent mortgage applications. He handled the transactions and, according to the plea agreement, generated $117,500 in commissions.

Even if Wilson is a big admirer of his Uncle Joe, Bravo’s friends say that link is just another coincidence.

Business partner Chesnoff defends Bravo as the consummate stand-up guy.

“I have been a lawyer for 32 years, and I have never seen anyone who so thoroughly turned his life around and has been as hard working and honorable with all those people that he has worked with than Joe Bravo,” Chesnoff says.

Consider former Las Vegas Mayor Goodman another of Bravo’s admirers.

“He did his time, and he did it like a man,” Goodman says. “He made no excuses, had no bravado, and I understand, after he came out, that he’s a hard worker. People who know him love him. His word is his bond. I don’t know anybody who says a bad word about him, even the feds. He paid his debt. I think Las Vegas is a place of second chances, so I have no problem vouching for him in that respect.”

And attorney Paul Hejmanowski offers, “I’ve had the privilege of working with him for several years. I consider him a personal friend. I’ve never known him to fail to keep his word in every instance.”

Defense attorneys Chesnoff and Marty Keach are listed in real estate records as partners in land deals with Bravo both locally and in Mexico. Down in Baja California Sur, their friend Joe’s name and criminal history have splashed in the press in association with their Punta Arena de la Ventana resort and the management of a private airport outside La Paz.

What’s a convicted drug trafficker doing managing a Mexican airport?

That’s a question skeptical reporters asked in 2010. They’ve also wondered about Bravo’s cordial relationship with then-Baja Sur Gov. Narciso Agundez Montano.

I might ask for Agundez to vouch for Bravo’s character, but the former governor was just arrested in late May on public corruption charges.

Back in Las Vegas, the HOA/construction defect investigation grinds on with prosecutors from the Department of Justice’s Fraud Section strongly hinting in court recently that the case remains a target-rich environment.

Bravo’s friends and business partners vouch for his rehabilitated character, but from here to Mexico it’s hard for him to shake his reputation.

Do you suppose he knows more about the structure of the HOA and construction defect conspiracy than meets the eye?

Say it ain’t so, Joe.

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. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

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