Nevada justice warned HOA conspirators of police raids, witness says

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published March 15, 2015


A witness in the trial of four defendants charged in the massive scheme to take over and defraud homeowners associations testified Monday that she was told a Nevada Supreme Court justice tipped off the late attorney Nancy Quon to the FBI investigation.

Deborah Genato, who pleaded guilty in the scheme, testified she learned that Quon was alerted beforehand to FBI-led raids across the valley in September 2008. Quon’s law office was among the many sites agents searched.

Genato said her boss, Lisa Kim, who ran a company that managed several HOAs linked to the multimillion-dollar scheme, told her about the tip. Kim, who also pleaded guilty, is on the government’s witness list, but has not been called to testify for prosecutors, who plan to wrap up their case as early as Tuesday.

Four remaining defendants, including longtime attorney Keith Gregory, are standing trial on conspiracy and fraud charges in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge James Mahan.

When defense lawyer Bret Whipple asked Genato if the tip to Quon meant a Supreme Court justice was involved in the takeover scheme, Genato said she had “no opinion” on that subject.

Whipple did not press Genato for a name, and a federal prosecutor avoided the subject when later questioning Genato.

Though several attorneys and former police officers were charged in the high-profile investigation, no judges or Supreme Court justices have been charged.

In a statement released late Monday, Chief Justice James Hardesty said: “The Nevada Supreme Court, as an institution, has nothing to offer in response to your inquiry about the testimony of Deborah Genato. This is an inquiry that should be directed to each individual justice, not the court.

“Speaking for myself, I have never spoken to Nancy Quon about this or any other investigation, whether civil or criminal.”

Quon, considered one of the central figures in the scheme, committed suicide in March 2012 under the weight of the long-running federal investigation. She was not charged at the time.

The subject of leaks has been a sensitive issue in the case.

In March 2011, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the Justice Department had opened a criminal investigation to determine whether prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas had leaked information that allowed Quon to alter or destroy evidence.

Investigators also looked into whether any prominent officials outside the federal government, including judges Quon knew, might have picked up confidential information and passed it along to Quon.

But the Justice Department announced in late August 2011 that it had dropped the leak investigation without filing charges — just as the first of 37 defendants pleaded guilty in the HOA takeover scheme.

In her testimony Monday, Genato also said she received $5,000 in cash from Ralph Priola, the right-hand man to former construction company boss Leon Benzer, the scheme’s mastermind, to help fix an HOA election at Park Avenue in 2008. Both men pleaded guilty in the scheme.

Genato said she gave Priola’s niece, Angela Esparza, access to ballots in her community management office so duplicates could be made to show votes for Benzer’s paid candidates. Esparza admitted stuffing ballots for Benzer.

Genato testified that she also did Benzer’s bidding while being part of the management teams at Vistana, Chateau Nouveau and Sunset Cliffs.

At Vistana, she said, she worked closely with Gregory, who prosecutors have alleged was paid to do legal work for both Benzer and Vistana at the same time.

Benzer won a $7.2 million contract in September 2007 to fix construction defects at Vistana, but did little repair work, Genato testified.