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Guilty plea didn’t surprise longtime observers of political fixer

Talk about your cramped accommodations.

As an owner of record at the Vistana condominium complex, homeowners association board member and Southern Nevada GOP political operative Steve Wark held around 1 percent of a residence. Records show Wark’s Sky Blue Business Management owned the condo in question, but in November 2005 he held just 1 percent of the unit. Sheila Heidt was listed as the owner of the other 99 percent.

One percent?

That’s about 10 square feet in a 1,000-square-foot condominium — about the size of a small closet. To put it another way, his ownership stake justified giving him the run of the manor fewer than four days per year.

Oh, but what Wark was able to do from his theoretical cubicle. His 1 percent stake enabled him to fix a homeowners association election and serve on the Vistana HOA board.

In pleading guilty this past week to conspiring to commit wire fraud and mail fraud and agreeing to cooperate with Department of Justice prosecutors, Wark finally stopped prevaricating and at last admitted he helped to rig board elections at Vistana. Once that board was stacked, it voted to award lucrative contracts to Silver Lining construction and its owner, Wark’s friend and one-time business partner Leon Benzer.

Just three years ago, right after the FBI raided Silver Lining’s office, Wark called Benzer “a good, solid individual” and “a good, hard businessman, very generous.”

Of course, Wark also said he knew of no wrongdoing. What a laugh.

Back in 2008, Wark said he was Benzer’s good friend. But I wonder what he’ll call him if he takes the witness stand against him?

Wark used his formidable experience as a campaign mechanic to help forge ballots, conduct phony telephone surveys, and hire a private detective to muddy the reputation of opposing candidates. In other words, to ensure the fix by employing any means necessary, including “deceitful tactics,” as DOJ prosecutors wrote.

Those who have watched Wark over the years in Nevada politics aren’t surprised. He’s practiced the dirty tricks of the political trade as well as anyone in the state for more than two decades.

For those in the press who have followed Wark and his cohorts from the outset of what has blossomed into a major investigation involving the FBI and Metro, the corruption was almost comically obvious and well documented. The only question was whether law enforcement would invest the time it took to wade through mountains of documents to arrive at conclusions reached by victimized condominium owners at Vistana and many other developments throughout the valley.

That question has now been answered.

This past week, we received a clear message from the FBI and DOJ when Wark, friend to Republican governors and a longtime source for Nevada journalists, took a felony and agreed to cooperate.

If others involved with Wark were smart — and by others I mean more than one ex-Metro cop — they’d follow his lead and cooperate. Wark’s admission of guilt not only acknowledges his criminal culpability, but also illustrates the lengths to which the FBI and Department of Justice are willing to go to nail down this case. Wark wasn’t a big earner in what’s shaping up to be a widespread, multimillion-dollar criminal conspiracy. He was, however, an insider with a clear view of the inner workings of the conspiracy.

Not bad for a 1 percent owner.

As long as Wark rides for the government brand, he’s a potentially valuable prosecution witness who could devastate defendants tied to the Vistana scam. But, speaking of small living spaces, Wark has pleaded guilty to a crime that in theory could send him to prison for many years in a 6-by-9 cell. Of course, his cooperation is expected to greatly mitigate that possibility.

Who can blame Steve Wark, admitted political fixer, for trying to avoid such cramped accommodations?

You can email John L. Smith at Smith@reviewjournal.com.

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