Veteran Clark County prosecutor surfaces in federal probe

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published January 15, 2012

A longtime career as a Clark County prosecutor is slipping away from Victoria Villegas, who finds her name surfacing in a federal criminal investigation.

Villegas, 51, once recommended to serve as Nevada's U.S. attorney, is being scrutinized by the same Justice Department attorneys spearheading the probe into fraud and corruption at Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations, courthouse sources said.

The allegations swirling around the chief deputy district attorney stem from the activities of her estranged husband, attorney David Amesbury, who pleaded guilty Oct. 24 in a scheme to take control of homeowners association boards with members who pushed for construction defect lawsuits against builders.

Amesbury, 57, who is cooperating in the investigation, also admitted participating 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 two partners, former construction company boss Leon Benzer and ex-Las Vegas police Lt. Benjamin Kim.

Investigators suspect Villegas, a prosecutor in the district attorney's office since May 1989, misled them about the extent of her knowledge of money loaned to the Courthouse Cafe, sources said.

The scheme, which occurred from October 2008 through July 2009, involved striking a secret deal to let an unidentified businessman handle the daily operations of the cafe without informing the county or the banks, according to court documents in Amesbury's case.

The businessman paid Amesbury and his partners $8,000 a month and kept any additional profits from the courthouse operation, the documents said.

Amesbury's plea deal drew headlines, making him one of the biggest names, so far, to face charges in the homeowners investigation, which has targeted lawyers, judges and former police officers.

On Oct. 21, just days before Amesbury entered his plea, Villegas quietly filed for divorce. Three weeks later on Nov. 16, Amesbury was found badly beaten in a gated Henderson community. Sources said he was "beaten to a pulp." His face was battered, he had broken ribs and both of his kneecaps were shattered.

Federal authorities do not believe the assault was related to the homeowners association investigation, but Henderson police have released few details about their probe and have not filed any charges.

Villegas, it turns out, also is in jeopardy of losing her job, sources said. The district attorney's office has sought to end her employment over possible abuse of family medical leave and not being truthful to law enforcement authorities, the FBI and Las Vegas police, when questioned about the Courthouse Cafe.

Villegas took time off supposedly to help Amesbury recover from his injuries, sources said. But Amesbury left Las Vegas to recuperate with his brother in Northern California, and Villegas, instead of following him there, mysteriously flew to Amsterdam. She remained there until recently.

Her lawyer, Adam Levine, declined comment.

Villegas, a naturalized U.S. citizen from the Philippines, is currently assigned to the district attorney's special victims unit in the criminal division, but she also spent years in the gang unit prosecuting high-profile cases.

In 1997, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., recommended Villegas to succeed then-U.S. Attorney Kathryn Landreth. But a backlog of nominations and impeachment proceedings against President Clinton stalled her Senate confirmation for nearly two years. She asked Reid to withdraw her name from consideration in February 1999.

In complying with her wishes, Reid called her withdrawal "a loss for both the country and for Nevada."