For long list of HOA players, a tough game in the cards

As good players know and poor ones eventually realize, your cards won’t improve by waiting and wishing.

All the sweating and squeezing in the world won’t change deuces into aces.

As targets of the local homeowners association corruption case ruminate over the hand the government has begun dealing them, last week’s news that Steve Wark had agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation had to have them studying their cards. They can’t look good.

Wark, the grass-roots campaign specialist and longtime Republican Party insider, admitted he participated in a plan to fix homeowners association board elections in an effort to steer millions to his friend Leon Benzer’s company Silver Lining, which specialized in construction defect repair.

Wark even got himself elected to the Vistana Homeowners Association board despite the fact he owned just 1 percent of a condominium there. He pleaded guilty to a mail and wire fraud conspiracy charge and in doing so admitted his role in a multimillion-dollar scheme that involved dozens of Southern Nevadans, including attorneys and Metro police veterans. The Review-Journal has previously reported that federal prosecutors have identified up to 100 co-conspirators in the case.

Presuming Wark cooperates fully, and surely his freedom depends on it, he would appear capable of greatly assisting the government’s case. Fixers know things.

And he’s not the only cooperating witness.

It’s been previously published that Las Vegas attorney David Amesbury has agreed to cooperate in the investigation. Amesbury was part of a business deal that included contractor Benzer and retired Metro Lt. Ben Kim. A loan transaction associated with their partnership in the failed Courthouse Cafe project at the Regional Justice Center has drawn law enforcement scrutiny.

Informed sources now confirm that Wark’s witness status also figures to be bolstered by the cooperation of Kim’s ex-wife, Lisa Nicklin Kim. She was president of Platinum Community Services, which managed many of the HOAs currently under federal scrutiny. Among those was the Vistana HOA at a time it was involved in construction defect litigation with developer Rhodes Homes. Vistana eventually received a $19 million settlement, thanks in part to the efforts of attorney Nancy Quon. Benzer’s Silver Lining construction was contracted for the repair work.

Quon clients reportedly have won more than $100 million in settlements in HOA construction defect litigations in recent years. In interviews, she has downplayed that figure. Her uncanny courtroom success, however, was undeniable.

All that came to a halt when her name surfaced in the HOA case. She has subsequently been charged with multiple felonies with her former boyfriend, ex-Metro cop Ronald Webb Jr., in what police are calling a failed arson-suicide plot.

I can imagine no one more capable than Nicklin Kim of explaining how the HOA boards under federal scrutiny really operated and who benefited when members voted to hire certain attorneys and contractors.

Although I’d argue that there’s an organized crime feel to elements of this case, it’s unlike a lot of investigations that rely heavily on cooperating witnesses and wiretaps. The HOA investigation has an abundant paper trail.

From all appearances, Wark will be able to explain the fixing that went on in those HOA elections. Nicklin Kim probably will be able to deliver the big picture in substantial detail, and it’s not a stretch to think she might be able to shed light on her ex-husband’s business deal at the Courthouse Cafe.

It all spells added pressure for a long list of co-conspirators.

The stakes get higher every day. Between the insider testimony and the pile of paper trails, it figures to be more heat than some players will be able to face.

At some point soon they’ll have to play the hands they’ve been dealt.

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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