Prosecutors say more HOA conspiracy charges imminent

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published November 29, 2012

A Justice Department lawyer told a federal judge Tuesday that the government is close to charging the last round of defendants in the sweeping investigation into corruption at Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations.

"We are on the eve of an indictment, literally, in the HOA case," said Charles La Bella, a deputy chief of the Justice Department's Washington-based Fraud Section.

His comments were made to U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro during what was supposed to be the first sentencing of a defendant in the long-running investigation, which has resulted in the convictions of 27 people.

Navarro was to sentence Mahin Quintero, 27, a loan processor and notary public who now lives in Reno, for a misdemeanor guilty plea to one count of producing a false authentication feature. But the judge delayed the sentencing until next year after La Bella said he was not prepared to formally explain why he plans to seek probation for Quintero.

Navarro said she had intended to sentence Quintero, described as a minor player in the massive homeowners association scheme, to six months in federal prison.

La Bella told Navarro that Quintero was cooperating with prosecutors and had been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury.

Prosecutors are looking to charge a dozen or more additional conspirators in the scheme to take over 11 homeowners associations between 2003 and 2009.

La Bella has been presenting evidence to the grand jury for several months.

Outside the courtroom Tuesday, La Bella would not discuss a timetable for the pending indictment, but the Las Vegas Review-Journal has reported it could come by the end of the year.

Quintero is the only defendant to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge. All but one of the 26 other defendants pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Justice Department lawyers said more than $8 million was funneled through secret bank accounts to fund the takeover scheme, which allowed the conspirators to land lucrative legal, construction and community management contracts from the homeowners associations.

The conspirators, through election rigging and other dirty campaign tactics, stacked association boards with members who awarded them millions of dollars worth of contracts - all at the expense of the homeowners, prosecutors have alleged.

Former construction company boss Leon Benzer and the late construction defects attorney Nancy Quon are alleged to have pulled the strings in the scheme. Benzer, 45, has not been charged.

Quon, 51, who wasn't charged, was found dead in the bathtub of her Henderson condominium on March 20. The coroner ruled her death a suicide.

Quintero acknowledged that she notarized loan documents for straw buyers at Vistana, Chateau Nouveau, Chateau Versailles, Pebble Creek and other condominium complexes as part of the conspiracy between October 2005 and February 2006.

In court Tuesday, La Bella said Quintero at first lied to investigators about her role but later told the truth.

She told investigators that co-conspirators approached her early in the investigation and persuaded her to destroy her notary book, La Bella said.

The investigation became public when FBI agents and Las Vegas police conducted raids across the valley in September 2008.

Navarro set a May 30 status check in Quintero's case and told the defendant she was getting a very lenient deal from prosecutors.