Opening statements held in trial for HOA scheme's last defendant

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published October 1, 2015


Federal prosecutors laid out their case Monday against a former Strip showgirl charged with lying to the FBI and a grand jury about her role in the massive scheme to take over and defraud homeowners associations.

Stephanie Markham, 56, who now lives in New York, is the last defendant to stand trial in what is regarded as the largest public corruption investigation undertaken in Southern Nevada. A total of 42 defendants have been convicted since 2011.

Justice Department lawyer Alison Anderson told the jury in her opening statement that Markham "was looking out for No. 1" and lied over and over again to avoid taking responsibility for her actions.

"She lied to cover up her involvement in this sprawling criminal scheme," Anderson said. "You will get to know the real Stephanie Markham."

Defense lawyer Robert Langford countered that the government witnesses, not Markham, aren't telling the truth. Several struck plea deals with prosecutors in bids to stay out of prison.

Langford said Markham was on the "very edge" of the conspiracy. She knew some of the players but didn't benefit from the scheme.

The trial is expected to last up to three days in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge James Mahan.

Proclaiming her innocence earlier this year, Markham took to the Internet to raise money for her defense. She collected more than $5,000 to, as she put it, "fight the big guys vigorously," and later turned down a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty.

Only four other defendants in the scheme, including lawyer Keith Gregory, went to trial and they were convicted in April and are now in federal prison. The rest of the defendants struck plea agreements.

Markham, who once danced in the Lido de Paris production show at the Stardust and with famed magicians Siegfried & Roy, was indicted in December on charges of making false statements to the FBI and lying to the grand jury. She also was charged with obstructing the high-profile HOA investigation.

Prosecutors allege Markham tried to cover up a 1 percent interest she received in a condominium at the Jasmine development in June 2006.

She sought to run for a seat on the Jasmine HOA board, where former construction company boss Leon Benzer, the takeover scheme's mastermind, was trying to land a lucrative contract to do construction defect repairs, Anderson told the jury.

Markham ended up backing out of the race, however, after a lawyer for the Jasmine HOA became suspicious of her candidacy and two other Benzer-backed candidates, Anderson said.

In a trial memorandum, prosecutors contend Markham, while an HOA board member at Cliff Shadows condominiums, received a $10,000 bribe from Benzer to steer a construction defect contract to him but was unable to make it happen.

But Anderson did not bring up Cliff Shadows in her opening statement.

Benzer pleaded guilty and was sentenced earlier this year to 15 1/2 years in prison for directing the scheme, which prosecutors alleged targeted roughly a dozen HOAs around the valley between 2003 and 2009.

Benzer packed HOA boards with "puppet" members through rigged elections to gain control and obtain millions of dollars in construction repair work, according to prosecutors.