Former Las Vegas cop gets prison time in HOA takeover scheme

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published May 22, 2015


A retired Las Vegas police lieutenant was sentenced to 366 days in federal prison Wednesday for his role in the scheme to defraud and take over Las Vegas-area homeowners associations.

Morris Mattingly, 54, who was director of security for the scheme’s central figure, former construction company boss Leon Benzer, also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release after prison and pay a share of $190,417 in restitution.

U.S. District Judge James Mahan said Mattingly, a Benzer-controlled board member at Vistana, abused his position of trust during the multimillion-dollar scheme by helping steer construction defect work to Benzer’s company.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that Benzer swindled the Vistana HOA out of more than $7 million for construction repairs that weren’t completed.

Mattingly apologized for his actions, telling Mahan he made a “very, very stupid judgment” he’ll regret the rest of his life.

His lawyer, Andrew Leavitt, said Mattingly was held to a higher standard in the community because of his former position as a police officer and, as a result, suffered extra shame and humiliation.

“He’s paid his price,” Leavitt said. “Nobody is going to punish him more than he’s punished himself.”

Two other key players in the massive takeover scheme, which involved a dozen HOAs between 2003 and 2009, avoided prison time on Wednesday.

Mahan sentenced former attorney Brian Jones, who admitted helping rig HOA elections at Vistana and Chateau Nouveau, both in the southwest valley, to three years of supervised release.

Jones, 41, who worked for the politically connected law firm Kummer Kaempfer Bonner Renshaw as the scheme unfolded, also was ordered to pay a share of $10,000 in restitution. His former firm, which lobbied local governments, disbanded in 2009, months after Jones moved to Utah and gave up practicing law.

Jones admitted in court that he made a “bad decision” that ruined his once-promising legal career. He said he now teaches at a Utah college.

Lisa Kim —who ran Platinum Community Services, which managed the Vistana HOA at Benzer’s direction — was sentenced to eight months of home confinement and three years of supervised release. Prosecutors had sought prison time for Kim, who admitted participating in election rigging at Vistana.

Defense lawyer Charles Kelly said Kim, who now runs a small house cleaning business, “lost basically everything” and made amends by being one of the first to cooperate in the long-running investigation.

Kim, 51, whose assistance was praised by lead prosecutor Charles La Bella, apologized to Mahan and tearfully said she regretted becoming involved in the takeover scheme.

All three defendants pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and cooperated with the government. Mattingly and Jones testified at the federal trial of former Benzer attorney Keith Gregory and three other defendants, who were convicted in March.

Kim also pleaded guilty in a related bank fraud scheme involving the Courthouse Cafe, which once operated out of the Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas. Her former husband, retired Las Vegas police Lt. Ben Kim, was sentenced to three years probation in 2013 for his role in the scheme.

A total of 20 defendants are being sentenced this week in the largest public corruption case federal authorities have brought in Southern Nevada. In all, 38 defendants pleaded guilty in the FBI-led investigation, which began in November 2007.

Benzer pleaded guilty in January and is to be sentenced later this year.