Former Republican official gets prison in HOA fraud case

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published May 16, 2015


Longtime political strategist Steve Wark was sentenced to 366 days in federal prison Monday for his role in the massive scheme to take over and defraud Las Vegas-area homeowners associations.

Senior U.S. District Judge Lloyd George also ordered Wark to serve three years of supervised release after prison. He is to surrender to federal authorities on Aug. 10.

Wark, a former Nevada Republican Party chairman, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud in August 2011.

He was the first in a long line of HOA targets to strike a deal to cooperate in the largest public corruption case ever brought by federal authorities in Southern Nevada. In all, 38 people pleaded guilty in the multimillion-dollar scheme, which involved as many as 11 HOAs between 2003 and 2009, according to federal prosecutors.

Three other people who pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy charge — Edward Lugo, Daniel Solomon and Deborah Genato — also were sentenced on Monday. A fifth defendant, Dax Louderman, was sentenced in a related HOA scheme to 15 months in prison for tax evasion.

The long-running investigation, spearheaded by the Justice Department’s fraud section in Washington, became public in September 2008 with FBI-led raids across the valley.

Wark, who was president of the Vistana HOA board during the height of the takeover scheme, showed remorse in court for his actions.

“I’d like to apologize to the people of Vistana who entrusted me with looking after them,” Wark said. “I disappointed my friends and family who have been very good to me.”

Wark told George he understood the scheme “caused death by a thousand cuts” to a lot of people, and he deserved the “justice” he was getting.

George said Wark had participated in a “horrendous” crime.

“I’m troubled with the conduct that has been asserted,” George said. “Some real harm has been done to homeowner’s associations.”

George sentenced Lugo — the cousin of the scheme’s mastermind, former construction company boss Leon Benzer — to 21 months in prison and three years of supervised release afterward.

Lugo also apologized and told George he wouldn’t have been involved in the scheme but for his recruitment by Benzer, who pleaded guilty in January.

“I’m sorry, and will be for the rest of my days,” Lugo said.

Justice Department lawyer Thomas Hall had sought a 30-month sentence for Lugo, arguing he ran a crucial bill payment program for straw buyers under Benzer’s direction.

Solomon, a straw buyer and Benzer-controlled HOA board member at Vistana, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and three years of supervised release, but not before he apologized profusely and pleaded for probation.

As he openly wept, Solomon said he tried to get out of the scheme once he realized it was wrong but couldn’t because Benzer threatened his life.

“I was very, very scared,” he said. “I had to do what I did because I was scared.”

Solomon did not disclose in court or afterward what Benzer told him, but he said the threat occurred at a December 2006 barbecue at Benzer’s house, as Benzer put his hands around his neck.

George sentenced Genato, a former community management employee, to three years of supervised release with three months of home confinement. He also ordered her to pay $30,000 in restitution to HOAs.

“I couldn’t be more sorry,” Genato told George.

She said it took her a long time to admit wrongdoing, but she felt she made up for it by testifying for the government at the trial of attorney Keith Gregory and three other defendants, who were convicted in March. Wark and Lugo also testified at the trial.

Attorneys, former police officers and HOA community managers who played roles in the scheme are among more than two-dozen defendants preparing to receive punishment over the next two weeks.

Benzer, who is to be sentenced this summer, targeted HOAs through a network of straw buyers and systematically took control of several boards through fraud and deceit, including the rigging of board elections, prosecutors alleged.

The goal was to steer lucrative construction defect repair contracts to Benzer.