Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas
By Jeff German
February 28, 2014
Federal prosecutors won a hard-fought victory Wednesday in the high-profile criminal case involving the takeover of Las Vegas valley homeowners associations.
U.S. District Judge James Mahan ordered a seven-month delay in the March 3 trial of 10 defendants charged in the massive scheme. But the delayed trial date is still well ahead of the 2015 time frame defense lawyers wanted.
|The case is now set to go before a jury on Oct. 6.
Former construction company boss Leon Benzer, the alleged mastermind, and his co-defendants are waiting to be tried on conspiracy and fraud charges in the multimillion-dollar scheme, which occurred between 2003 and 2009.
The conspirators are accused of stacking HOA boards to gain legal and construction defect contracts for themselves. Straw buyers were recruited to purchase condominiums at nearly a dozen developments around town and then elected to the HOA boards through bribery and rigged elections.
The long-running investigation became public in
Leon Benzer: Accused of being the mastermind behind a Las Vegas HOA scheme. Benzer and his co-conspirators are accused of conspiring to pack HOA boards to gain legal and construction defect contracts for themselves.
September 2008, when FBI agents and Las Vegas police conducted raids across the valley. It is thought to be the largest public corruption case federal authorities have brought in Southern Nevada.
In ordering the shorter trial delay, Mahan Wednesday said the closely watched case, with more than 40 defendants, has generated “a lot of interest” in the community.
“I think it’s important that we bring it to a close,” Mahan told the lawyers in a courtroom packed with visiting fifth graders.
Benzer, who is free on his own recognizance, sat in the back of the courtroom among the students during the hearing.
His defense lawyer Daniel Albregts led the charge to delay the trial until the spring of 2015, arguing he needs the time to review the mountain of evidence, which includes more than 3.4 million pages of documents turned over by federal prosecutors.
But Thomas Hall, a trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Fraud Section in Washington, argued that defense lawyers have had plenty of time to review the evidence prosecutors began turning over after the January 2013 indictment of Benzer and company.
Hall told Mahan that delaying the trial into next year wasn’t fair to roughly 30 defendants who have pleaded guilty in the case and are waiting to be sentenced. Many of the defendants pleaded guilty more than two years ago.
They have clauses in their agreements with prosecutors that earn them lighter sentences after they testify at trial against Benzer and his co-defendants.
In court papers last month, prosecutors also argued that a long continuance would deny justice to the victims of the takeover scheme, the lending institutions victimized by the straw buyers and the HOA’s and their homeowners. Prosecutors are seeking $25 million in restitution from all of the defendants, including those who pleaded guilty.
Bruce Wallace, who served on the Vistana HOA board when a takeover occurred, said he was pleased with Mahan’s decision.
“We’ve been waiting for many years to see these people brought to justice,” said Wallace, who was not part of the Vistana takeover. “Hopefully, they’ll be convicted and the courts will apply significant restitution as part of their sentence so that homeowners associations like Vistana can recover at least part of what they lost.”
Wallace estimated that Vistana, which is in southwest Las Vegas, was swindled out of more than $7 million in construction defect money it had won in court.
Benzer faces separate tax evasion charges stemming from the $7 million his company, Silver Lining Construction, received to do construction defect work at
His trial is set for March 18 before U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey, but Albregts is seeking to delay the case until after the HOA fraud trial.
Prosecutors have alleged that Benzer, the late construction defect lawyer Nancy Quon and others funneled $8 million through secret bank accounts to fund the scheme to land contracts worth millions of dollars more from the homeowners associations.
Quon committed suicide on March 20, 2012, and was not charged in the case. Another attorney, David Amesbury, who had pleaded guilty, killed himself five days later.
Others lawyers, former Las Vegas police officers and corrupted HOA board members are among those charged in the case.