Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas
By Jenny Wilson
March 31, 2017
Forty people were arrested and at least three people
killed themselves after federal investigators started bulldozing a
construction company owner’s massive election-rigging scheme to defraud
homeowners associations of millions of dollars and win an illegal
fortune off of construction defect lawsuits and building repair
company owner, Leon Benzer, is serving a 15-year prison
sentence. His criminal partner, former construction
defect attorney Nancy Quon, killed herself in 2012 as
authorities were zeroing in on her role. Her estate
since has paid out a $6 million settlement to the
homeowners association that suffered the greatest
losses, a lawyer for the Vistana HOA said in court
But the dust still hasn’t settled. The homeowners
association is trying to convince a judge that the fraud
ringleaders could not have embezzled millions without
the gross malpractice committed by a law firm that was
hired in 2006 to protect the integrity of the Vistana
HOA board elections.
The firm, Kummer Kaempfer Bonner Renshaw and Ferrario,
did the opposite and concealed illegal behavior from its
client, attorney Richard Haskin, who is representing the
Vistana HOA, told a Clark County judge Tuesday.
Judge Mark Denton heard opening statements Tuesday in
the civil case the Vistana HOA filed against the firm,
which since has changed its name to Kaempfer Crowe. Only
one of the firm’s lawyers, a first-year associate, ever
faced criminal charges.
Leon Benzer, the alleged mastermind of the scheme
to take over homeowner associations, arrives at the Lloyd George
U.S. Courthouse on Friday, Jan. 23, 2015.
In his opening statement, Haskin raced through the details of Benzer’s
corrupt takeover of the Vistana HOA board, highlighting the players who
helped him along the way.
Benzer and Quon started infiltrating the Vistana HOA board more than a
decade ago using straw buyers, handpicking their cronies as board
candidates and rigging the elections to eventually win three-person
majority control of the five-member board. They fired existing
construction defect lawyers, and Quon took charge. She handled the legal
work, while Benzer’s company, Silver Lining Constructions, was awarded
the remediation contracts.
By 2006, the activities had raised eyebrows at the Nevada Real Estate
Division, which received several complaints from homeowners, Haskin
said. It demanded that Vistana hire an independent third party to
oversee the upcoming election.
The board hired KKBRF. Haskin told the judge Benzer had a prior business
relationship and friendship with one of the firm’s attorneys.
“You couldn’t possibly represent both Leon Benzer and Vistana in this
case,” he said, accusing the firm of conflict of interest.
The law firm assigned the Vistana matter to first-year associate Brian
Jones, who was the only lawyer at the firm arrested. In pleading guilty
to federal charges, he admitted misleading state officials about his
knowledge of election rigging and allowing Benzer’s puppets to stuff
ballots at his office.
“They were supposed to safeguard those ballots. They were supposed to
collect those ballots,” Haskin said. “They were supposed to protect
Vistana from the crimes that were circling … and they didn’t.”
Haskin accused the firm of concealing the corrupt election activity from
Mark Ferrario, a Kaempfer Crowe lawyer representing his firm, said KKBRF
was not “tied in with Benzer, with this group of people that were out
Instead, Ferrario blamed solely Jones.
“Mr. Jones abruptly left the firm. … He concealed this activity from
those at the firm but let the firm conceal nothing from Vistana,”
Lawyers for Vistana and KKBRF stipulated to a maximum $7 million in
damages that can be awarded to Vistana if the malpractice claim holds.
That figure represents a portion of a $19 million construction
settlement it was awarded under Benzer and Quon’s control, money that
players in the fraud scheme scooped up.
The law firm argues that a $6 million settlement Vistana won from the
Quon estate — and about $700,000 recovered from other sources — should
offset the damages for which it can be found liable. Ferrario argued to
the judge that Vistana is entitled to only $300,000 if the judge sides
with the HOA.
Attorneys representing Vistana, meanwhile, are seeking the full $7
million in attorney damages and fees. They argue that the HOA was
defrauded of much more than that amount, and that the stipulated figure
only represents the amount for which the firm alone can be held liable.