Lawyer who pleaded guilty in HOA probe found beaten on street

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published November 19, 2011  


David Amesbury, a Las Vegas attorney who pleaded guilty last month in the high-profile federal investigation of homeowners associations, was found badly beaten Wednesday in a gated Henderson neighborhood.

FBI spokesman Joseph Dickey said agents are working with the Henderson and Las Vegas police departments to determine what happened to Amesbury, who is recovering from his injuries at an area hospital.

"At this time, there is no evidence that this was in any way, shape or form related to the homeowners association investigation," Dickey said. "However, if we do develop evidence that Mr. Amesbury was targeted because of his involvement as a federal witness, we will seek to charge the perpetrators to the maximum extent of the federal law."

Amesbury, 57, who once ran a popular courthouse restaurant, was the first lawyer to enter a felony plea in the far-reaching federal investigation, which has targeted lawyers, judges and former police officers.

All 10 defendants who have pleaded guilty so far, including Amesbury, have struck deals to cooperate with federal prosecutors looking to charge higher-level players in the massive scheme to profit from the takeover of homeowners associations. As many as 15 more defendants are preparing to enter guilty pleas requiring their cooperation.

Lawyers with the Justice Department's Fraud Section have alleged that the co-conspirators stacked Las Vegas Valley homeowners association boards with members who pushed for construction defect lawsuits against builders. The boards then steered legal and construction repair work to co-conspirators.

Authorities would not comment on what impact Amesbury's beating is having on the federal investigation.

Defense lawyer Todd Leventhal, who represents one of the cooperating defendants, said the FBI called to tell him what had happened.

"They wanted to assure me that they were taking this seriously," Leventhal said. "They asked me to let them know if my client receives any threats or notices anything unusual."

Henderson police spokesman Keith Paul said officers received a call at 6 a.m. Wednesday that a man was found in the street on Dogwood Ranch Avenue near Summit Grove Drive in Green Valley.

"He had obvious injuries," Paul said. "The injuries, we believe, came from an assault."

Paul said Amesbury was taken to a hospital for treatment. He would not disclose the hospital's name, citing security concerns. "I don't have a condition on him but believe the injuries are not life-threatening," he said.

Paul said he did not know whether Amesbury lived in the gated community where he was found. Records on file with the Clark County assessor's office show that Amesbury and his wife, Chief Deputy District Attorney Victoria Villegas, own a home through a trust elsewhere.

Amesbury's beating is the latest incident involving a central figure in the homeowners association investigation.

A few days after FBI agents and Las Vegas police conducted a valley-wide raid in the investigation in September 2008, former police officer Christopher Van Cleef, whose name had surfaced in the probe, killed himself.

Last November, Las Vegas police broke up what they said was a suicide scheme involving construction defects attorney Nancy Quon, a key target of the federal investigation. Quon is facing arson and insurance fraud charges stemming from a suspicious October 2010 fire at her Rhodes Ranch home.

Amesbury pleaded guilty Oct. 24 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

He admitted that between March and September 2008, he was paid a $3,000 kickback by his co-conspirators to help rig board elections at Chateau Nouveau and Pebble Creek. The scheme involved finding "straw purchasers" to buy condominiums and getting them to run for seats on the boards, prosecutors have alleged. The straw buyers were elected through classic dirty campaign tactics that included forging ballots and digging up dirt on candidates not supported by the co-conspirators.

Once on the boards, the paid-off members steered legal and construction repair work to the co-conspirators, prosecutors alleged. The co-conspirators also hired lawyers to advise the homeowners associations and created property management companies to run them with the sole purpose of looking out for the financial interests of the co-conspirators.

Amesbury also admitted that he participated in a separate scheme to defraud banks while seeking refinancing for the Courthouse Cafe, which he operated in the Regional Justice Center under a Clark County contract with former construction company boss Leon Benzer and another partner, former Las Vegas police Lt. Benjamin Kim. Both Benzer and Kim are targets of the federal investigation but have not been charged.

All three partners ran the Courthouse Cafe until January, when they had a falling out and turned over the restaurant rights with county approval to the Capriotti's Sandwich Shop chain.

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