Ex-police captain to plead guilty in HOA probe

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published May 25, 2012

Retired Las Vegas police Capt. Frank Sutton has struck a deal to plead guilty in the high-profile federal investigation of Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations.

The investigation has focused on a massive fraud scheme to stack associations with board members who would steer legal, community management and construction defect contracts to favored firms.

Sutton is the last of three retired Las Vegas police officers linked to the investigation to face charges. A fourth former officer killed himself early in the four-year investigation.

Sutton was a board member at three of the dozen condominium associations involved in the investigation - Park Avenue, High Noon and Mission Ridge - and tried to get on the board of a fourth association, Pebble Creek.

While on the boards, Sutton also is alleged to have worked for former construction company boss Leon Benzer, a key target of the investigation. Federal authorities have alleged that Benzer and the late construction defects lawyer, Nancy Quon, were behind the lucrative scheme. Quon's body was found in the bathtub of her Henderson condominium on March 20.

Justice Department lawyers disclosed the Sutton deal in a just-unsealed and unopposed motion to consolidate his case with the case of 14 other defendants set to plead guilty before U.S. District Judge James Mahan on May 31. Mahan signed an order Wednesday adding Sutton to the group plea deal, one of the largest ever in Nevada.

All of the defendants, including Sutton, are cooperating with the Justice Department lawyers, as the investigation moves forward with possible indictments of still-more targets. Eleven other defendants pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate last year.

Details of Sutton's agreement with prosecutors will be made public after he enters his plea to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, the same charge facing the other 14 defendants.

The deal comes after months of negotiations between prosecutors and Sutton's lawyer, Richard Wright, who declined comment on Wednesday.

Another retired Las Vegas police officer, Morris Mattingly, is among the defendants who will enter guilty pleas on May 31. Mattingly served on the Vistana association's board while he worked for Benzer.

Former police Lt. Benjamin Kim is also set to plead guilty next week in a scheme to fraudulently obtain a bank loan for the Courthouse Cafe, which did business at the Regional Justice Center. Benzer, Kim and the late attorney, David Amesbury, were partners in the restaurant, now a Capriotti's sandwich shop.

Amesbury, who was found dead March 25 of an apparent hanging at his brother's property in Northern California, pleaded guilty in both the bank fraud and homeowners association schemes in October.

Kim's estranged wife, Lisa Kim, is pleading guilty on May 31 in both schemes. She ran Platinum Community Services, which managed several of the victim homeowners associations.

Her husband's plea is to take place separately before Mahan on Tuesday.

A fourth former Las Vegas police officer tied to the investigation, retired Lt. Christopher Van Cleef, shot himself to death several days after FBI agents and Las Vegas police conducted a valleywide raid in September 2008. Van Cleef was on the board of Pebble Creek and had purchased condominiums at other developments in the scheme.

Federal authorities have alleged that board members friendly to Benzer worked against the interests of the associations and homeowners to hire Benzer to do construction work and Quon and other lawyers to sue for construction defects. Community management companies also were retained to maintain control over the homeowners associations.

"These HOA contracts can be very lucrative and therefore certain conspirators stood to gain considerable profits by being awarded the contracts or litigation," Justice Department lawyers Charles La Bella and Mary Ann McCarthy wrote in court papers.

The board members were elected through dirty campaign tactics, including rigged elections, the prosecutors previously alleged.