Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas
By Jeff German
Published March 22, 2015
Nearing an end to one of the longest and
widest-ranging criminal cases in Las Vegas history, a federal jury
Tuesday convicted four defendants charged in the massive
scheme to take over and defraud homeowners associations.
The jury deliberated several hours before reaching its verdict on the
heels of a three-week trial in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge
|Prosecutors contended the
multimillion-dollar scheme was carried out between 2003
and 2009 by former construction company boss Leon Benzer
and the late construction defects lawyer Nancy Quon.
Benzer has since pleaded guilty. Quon committed suicide
in 2012 under the weight of the high-profile
The four defendants, including former Benzer attorney
Keith Gregory, were convicted of conspiracy and wire
fraud charges. Also found guilty were Benzer’s
half-sister Edith Gillespie, who recruited straw
homebuyers; Salvatore Ruvolo, a Benzer-controlled HOA
board member at Park Avenue and Chateau Nouveau; and
David Ball, whom Benzer placed on the Chateau Nouveau
Keith Gregory, attorney and defendant in a
federal case involving fraud and corruption at Las Vegas
homeowners associations walks to Lloyd George Federal Courthouse
in Las Vegas.
The long-running investigation, spearheaded by the
Justice Department’s fraud section in Washington, is considered the
largest public corruption case federal authorities have brought here.
The investigation became public in September 2008 with FBI-led raids
across the valley.
The defendants, who were indicted with Benzer in January 2013, showed
little emotion in court as the clerk read the verdicts. Lawyers for some
of the defendants said afterward they plan to appeal.
Charles La Bella, a seasoned fraud section deputy chief who led the
prosecution team, hailed the verdicts.
“The jury spoke loudly and clearly as to the evidence in this case,” he
told the Las Vegas Review-Journal outside the courtroom.
Mahan is to sentence the four, who remain free on their own
recognizance, on June 17.
La Bella asked Mahan in court to issue an order barring Gregory from
practicing law or supervising people practicing law in his office while
he waits to be sentenced.
Gregory’s attorneys opposed the move, and Mahan set a March 26 hearing
to discuss the matter further.
In their closing arguments Monday, defense lawyers said their clients
were victims of the takeover scheme and attacked the credibility of the
many government witnesses who testified under plea deals seeking reduced
But La Bella told the jury that all four defendants were integral
members of the conspiracy drawn in by Benzer, the “puppet master,” and
willingly participated out of their own greed.
According to prosecutors, straw buyers were recruited to obtain
condominiums at targeted developments and some were elected to HOA
boards through ballot-box stuffing and dirty tricks so they could help
Quon and Benzer obtain lucrative legal and construction contracts.
Others were deeded interests in condominiums at targeted developments so
they could get on the boards.
Lawyers, private investigators, real estate agents and community
management firms were all brought into the elaborate scheme.
Co-conspirators were secretly paid to participate in the conspiracy,
which was designed to ensure HOA boards voted Benzer’s way, prosecutors
A total of 37 people pleaded guilty in the corruption scheme, which
included as many as 11 HOAs. Most of those defendants, including Benzer
and several lawyers, will be sentenced in the coming weeks. One lawyer
who pleaded guilty, David Amesbury, committed suicide five days after
Quon took her own life in March 2012.
Left to be tried in the case is Stephanie Markham, a straw buyer
prosecutors allege Gillespie recruited to the scheme. Markham was
charged separately with lying to the FBI and to a federal grand jury.
At Vistana, where the scheme was carried out to its fullest, Benzer and
his Silver Lining Construction Company swindled homeowners out of more
than $8 million earmarked for construction defect work that was never
done, prosecutors said during the trial.
Prosecutors singled out Gregory during the trial as Benzer’s “double
agent.” They presented evidence Benzer installed Gregory as Vistana’s
general counsel to help the “puppet board” steer a seven-figure
construction defect contract to Silver Lining Construction. Gregory was
being paid by both Benzer and the Vistana board when crucial contract
votes came up in 2007.
Vistana President Lynn Williams, who sat through most of the trial, said
he was pleased with its outcome.
“I think its great,” he said. “The bottom line is that it was just
greed. People didn’t believe they had to comply with the rules.”
Williams, a retired federal agent, praised the work of the investigators
who spent years making the complicated criminal case. FBI Agent Michael
Elliott and Las Vegas Detective Robert Whiteley, now a sergeant, worked
full-time on the case since late 2007.
“The tenacity of the FBI and the Metro Police Department was
outstanding,” Williams said. “They did a great job.”
Williams said he now hopes the defendants will be ordered to pay
millions of dollars in restitution to the Vistana homeowners.
High-stakes civil litigation involving Vistana, Quon’s estate, Benzer
and many of the other defendants who pleaded guilty in the takeover
scheme is likely to move forward now in both state and federal court.
The cases have been on hold to avoid interfering with the criminal case.