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Nancy Quon tried hard to keep from looking like a quitter

Nancy Quon was doing her best to hold it together. That much was clear from the outset of our interview.

She talked a good game, but her dark eyes betrayed her. They were wet with emotion even as she attempted to argue that she was a tough guy and not suicidal, as local law enforcement had claimed.

Trouble was, her words didn’t match her body language. Her rhetoric was defiant, but her being was tremulous.

If asked to speculate, I would have guessed her balance was buffered by a healthy dose of anti-anxiety medication. She later confirmed that.

The words she spoke in the presence of defense attorney Tom Pitaro came slowly. Her comments were carefully measured, and possibly rehearsed.

The message Quon wanted to send that morning in December 2010 was that she was a battler, not a quitter. She swore she hadn’t intended to kill herself on the evening of Oct. 28, 2010, when she nearly died in a fire at her home.

“I think, to me, maybe that was the most disconcerting part about the newspaper stories that they would indicate that I was somehow suicidal, or … that I would consider taking my own life,” she said. “And anyone who knows me knows that’s just not my personality. I’m a fighter. My practice was taking on huge developers and insurance companies, and they just don’t roll over. It’s always a fight.”

But Quon was a trembling fighter with tears in her eyes.

In a matter of months, the 50-year-old single mother had gone from high-flying attorney to the shadowy villainess in an investigation headed by the FBI and Department of Justice. Authorities believe she was a key figure in a conspiracy to exploit homeowners associations to generate millions of dollars from construction defect lawsuits and repairs.

Now Quon is dead. A family member found her lifeless body Tuesday in a bathtub at her Henderson condominium. Not surprisingly, speculation immediately focused on a possible suicide, and authorities haven’t ruled it out.

If that turns out to be true, it will make the second suicide directly associated with the HOA investigation. Retired Metro Lt. Christopher Van Cleef died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in September 2008 after his name surfaced in connection with the HOA investigation.

Despite Quon’s death, the pressure of that investigation will continue to mount. This past week, the Review-Journal reported DOJ attorneys aren’t slowing their push for more indictments and convictions in the wake of Quon’s demise. I’ve recently learned former contractor Leon Benzer, a central figure with Quon in the construction defect scandal, has been offered a deal. Retired Metro Lt. Benjamin Kim, who is associated with Benzer in the ownership of the Courthouse Cafe, has come to terms with the government. And recently terminated Clark County Assistant District Attorney Victoria Villegas faces the high likelihood of criminal charges in connection with the Courthouse Cafe investigation, which is spearheaded by Metro.

The Justice Department’s probe grinds on, and the scandal will generate no shortage of headlines in the weeks to come. Eventually, Quon’s name will fade from the newsprint associated with the HOA scandal.

There was a time she was a remarkable success story. Her legal career was as lucrative as it was unlikely. She came from a working-class family and was introduced to the world of attorneys as a teenage legal runner. She eventually became a paralegal, then pushed on to law school at California Western, where she took fast-track courses in pursuit of the brass ring.

Soon the single mom was employing runners of her own.

Quon had a reputation as a bruising construction defect litigator. Her cases were well prepared, her arguments professionally delivered, her judgment victories in the millions.

None of that means she was innocent, of course, only that she was human. That’s easy to lose sight of amid the acrid smoke of a sensational criminal investigation.

Nancy Quon is finally free from the pressure she so obviously felt.

The investigation continues.

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

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