Judge unseals HOA cases, pledges to keep process open
Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal
By Jeff German
Published May 7, 2012
U.S. District Judge James Mahan on Tuesday unsealed and consolidated the cases against 14 new defendants in the federal investigation into fraud and corruption at Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations.
But because of court procedures, the plea agreements of the new defendants will remain under seal until they enter their pleas before Mahan on May 31.
At a brief hearing, Justice Department lawyer Mary Ann McCarthy told Mahan that prosecutors expect to add two more defendants to the new plea group by that date.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal first reported last month that the 14 defendants agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. They will join 11 others who previously pleaded guilty in the massive scheme, which involved taking over homeowners associations and steering legal and construction contracts to favored firms.
One defendant who pleaded guilty last year, Las Vegas attorney David Amesbury, was found dead March 25 near Sacramento, Calif., of an apparent hanging and will be dropped from the case.
Authorities have alleged that former construction boss Leon Benzer and the late construction defects lawyer Nancy Quon were behind the massive scheme.
Benzer has discussed striking a plea deal with federal prosecutors but remains a target of the far-reaching investigation. Quon was found dead in the bathtub of her Henderson condominium on March 20. Police do not suspect foul play in her death.
At Tuesday's hearing, Mahan said he favored making public the 14 new cases before him, and he allowed a Review-Journal reporter to remain in the courtroom and observe the proceeding.
"This is an important case in Las Vegas," Mahan said. "Let's open it up and let the media in."
A dozen defense lawyers participated in the hearing, as five of the 14 new defendants, including disbarred lawyer Jeanne Winkler, listened from the courtroom gallery.
Mahan told the lawyers that he wants to handle the pleas on May 31 in two separate sessions, one in the morning and the other likely in the afternoon.
Justice Department lawyers first identified the new defendants last month in copies of secret court papers obtained by the Review-Journal seeking to unseal the cases. Their names also were listed Tuesday on Mahan's daily courtroom calendar in connection with the hearing and later in the case's now-public electronic file.
Winkler, who was disbarred and charged with theft and embezzlement last year, took notes on a legal pad during the hearing. She declined comment afterward.
Among the other new defendants pleading guilty is Lisa Kim, who once ran Platinum Community Services, a homeowners association management company raided early in the investigation in September 2008. Her lawyer, Charles Kelly, appeared for her in court.
Another new defendant is Attorney Brian Jones, who worked for the now-dissolved law firm Kummer, Kaempfer, Bonner, Renshaw & Ferrario. The politically connected firm broke up in 2009, and Jones is said to be practicing law in Utah.
Three former Vistana board members, ex-Las Vegas police officer Morris Mattingly, Charles Hawkins and Patrick Bergsrud, also are among the 14 new defendants. Hawkins was in court Tuesday, but declined comment afterward.
The other defendants who have agreed to plead guilty are Paul Citelli, Rosalio Alcantar, Robert Bolten, Glenn Brown, Michelle Deluca, Sami Robert Hindiyeh, Arnold Myers and Anthony Roy Wilson.
A team of trial lawyers from the Justice Department's Fraud Section in Washington, D.C., is prosecuting the case. The Nevada U.S. attorney's office, citing a possible conflict of interest, removed itself from the investigation.
Prosecutors expect to seek grand jury indictments against a dozen or so targets who declined to strike plea agreements.
Lawyers and former police officers are among the remaining targets. Judges were targeted early in the high-profile investigation but none, so far, have been charged.
Prosecutors have alleged that a dozen homeowners associations were victimized in the takeover scheme between 2003 and 2009.