Retired Las Vegas police officer pleads guilty

in bank fraud scheme

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published June 2, 2012  

Retired Las Vegas police Lt. Benjamin Kim pleaded guilty Tuesday in a bank fraud scheme involving the Courthouse Cafe, once a popular restaurant at the Regional Justice Center.

Kim, 51, entered a guilty plea before U.S. District Judge James Mahan to one count of misprision of felony, having knowledge of a crime and not disclosing it to authorities.

Mahan set an Oct. 22 sentencing on the charge, which also is a felony.

Kim, who retired from the Metropolitan Police Department in 2010, appeared nervous in court as he answered Mahan's series of questions about his plea with a "Yes, sir" or "No, sir."

Afterward, both Kim and his lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender William Carrico, declined comment.

Charles La Bella, a deputy chief of the Justice Department's Washington-based Fraud Section, told Mahan that the government would not oppose letting Kim remain free while he awaits his sentence. Kim is cooperating with prosecutors.

The case is a spinoff of the sweeping investigation into the takeover of Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations, a probe La Bella is spearheading.

Kim's estranged wife, Lisa Kim, also is to plead guilty to a misprision of felony charge on Thursday, as well as a separate charge of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in the homeowners association investigation.

Lisa Kim's company, Platinum Community Services, managed some of the associations dragged into the four-year investigation.

Another defendant who pleaded guilty in both schemes, attorney David Amesbury, was found dead of an apparent hanging on March 25.

Amesbury was partners with Benjamin Kim and former construction boss Leon Benzer, a key target in the homeowners investigation.

In his plea deal last year, Amesbury admitted conspiring to commit bank fraud while seeking refinancing for the cafe, now a Capriotti's sandwich shop.

The scheme, which occurred from October 2008 through July 2009, involved striking a deal to let a businessman identified as "S.K." handle the daily operations of the cafe without informing the county or the bank, federal prosecutors have alleged.

According to Kim's just-unsealed plea deal, the businessman secretly agreed to give the Courthouse Cafe partners a $35,000 down payment and then pay them $8,000 a month for three years. In return the businessman was allowed to keep any restaurant profits.

The secret deal, which was struck to bail out the financially struggling Courthouse Cafe, was kept from the bank when the restaurant's partners sought a $1 million loan, Kim admitted in his plea agreement.

As part of the scheme, phony documents claiming the businessman's financial statements as the Courthouse Cafe's were submitted to the bank.

"The owners concealed these facts for the purpose of making it appear that the (Courthouse Cafe) was eligible for a larger loan than it would be otherwise, and knowing that the bank would not issue a loan if the bank knew the true state of affairs," Kim's plea agreement said. "Defendant knew these representations to the bank were fraudulent."

In the end, the loan was not obtained, the agreement said.

Kim's plea kicked off a busy weak for prosecutors.

On Thursday, a total of 15 defendants are to enter guilty pleas before Mahan in the homeowners investigation, including two other retired police officers, Morris Mattingly and Frank Sutton, a captain. They will join 11 other defendants who previously pleaded guilty as cooperating witnesses for prosecutors.

The scheme involved stacking association boards with members who steered legal, construction and community management contracts to favored firms.

Prosecutors have alleged that Benzer and late construction defects attorney Nancy Quon were behind the scheme. Quon's body was found in the bathtub of her Henderson condominium on March 20. Police do not suspect foul play.

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