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EDITORIAL: HOA secrecy

A federal court filing from last month is a perfect symbol of the secrecy surrounding the slow-moving fraud investigation into the takeover of local homeowners association boards.

In December, lawyers for co-defendant Keith Gregory filed a motion to seal a government motion to admit new evidence in the case. Then those same lawyers filed a motion to seal their motion to seal. Talk about overkill.

Sunshine is in short supply in this investigation, which was made public more than five years ago and involves a criminal conspiracy that began more than a decade ago, according to authorities. The government alleges the defendants packed HOA boards with fellow conspirators, who then pursued construction defect claims so everyone could cash in on the legal and construction contracts.

So far, 30 defendants have pleaded guilty to charges in exchange for their cooperation against construction company boss Leon Benzer, the accused mastermind. None of the defendants who pleaded guilty has been sentenced because Benzer’s trial hasn’t started. It could be years before it does. And exactly what those defendants did is a well-kept secret. As reported Tuesday by the Review-Journal’s Jeff German, a magistrate’s order bars the disclosure of evidence to anyone not directly involved in the case. That effectively has kept millions of documents under lock and key. Closed-door hearings are common, not just in this case, but in other federal cases as well.

The integrity of the justice system is rooted in transparency. If the public can’t see it, and the media can’t report on it, how can anyone have confidence in the process? While the public waits for answers, the victims wait for justice and restitution of about $25 million.

Openness works in the state court system. The federal system operates in the shadows for no other reason than it can. It shouldn’t.

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