Blink and you might have missed it. But the stakes were raised this past week in the burgeoning investigation of corruption inside local homeowners associations and the construction defect racket.
Two events promise to substantially increase pressure on key defendants — and just might cause some unnamed subjects to lose a little sleep.
The first event involves Leon Benzer, a central figure in the federal HOA investigation. Benzer, 46, has been called the mastermind behind the defect litigation scam through his Silver Lining Construction company and the law office of the late attorney Nancy Quon. There’s no denying Benzer’s name is all over damning paperwork that figures to be used against him.
On Jan. 15, Benzer and 10 others were indicted on a total of 18 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and criminal conspiracy in connection with fraudulent asset transfers conducted to gain control of local HOAs. The group is scheduled for trial in March 2014. The alleged criminal conspiracy ranged from 2003 until 2009. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice Fraud Section and thus far has generated 29 guilty pleas.
This past week, Benzer received even more bad news. He was indicted on individual and business income tax evasion charges. Between the two charges, Benzer is accused of evading nearly $1.2 million in taxes and appears to have left a substantial paper trail.
The indictment not only ups the ante on Benzer, but it also reveals how meticulously the FBI and Internal Revenue Service have investigated this case. Right down to the penny, you might say.
Then there’s the case’s potential wild card: local private investigator Charles McChesney. He started working for Benzer at Silver Lining in 2004 and is named as a key player in the January HOA indictment.
McChesney made news this past week after being arrested with Las Vegas bail bondsman John Kevin McCabe on charges that include robbery, use of a deadly weapon, home invasion, burglary and grand larceny. The pair is accused of physically forcing slow-paying female bail clients, at times at gunpoint, to pay their debts. In one incident, they are alleged to have pulled weapons on a woman and her three children.
According to court documents, McChesney is represented by attorney John Spilotro, who was once on the city business license of Benzer’s Silver Lining company. Spilotro has not been named as a target of the HOA investigation.
In his capacity as a private investigator, McChesney’s name also surfaces in association with a lawsuit over control of the Punta de la Ventana resort development outside La Paz, Mexico. The lawsuit was filed by convicted drug trafficker Joseph Bravo and attorneys David Chesnoff and Eckley Keach against controversial promoter Kerry Rogers, who died of cancer in April 2012. McChesney not only served court documents on behalf of the plaintiffs, but sources confirm he conducted surveillance of Rogers’ associates in Las Vegas and Mexico.
Bravo hasn’t surfaced in connection with the HOA investigation, and his friends and business partners call him a reformed man. But his nephew, Anthony Roy Wilson, played a substantial role in securing straw buyers for 17 condominiums. Wilson pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2012.
And there’s Paul Citelli, a local limo driver who was one of Bravo’s co-defendants in that drug trafficking case. Citelli also pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the HOA case.
Perhaps all that’s a coincidence. These days the government’s focus is on Leon Benzer, his loyal pal Charles McChesney and other players.
After flying high as the head of a well-connected and successful construction company, Benzer last was seen driving a cab in Las Vegas. As of late this past week, bail bondsman McChesney was having trouble making bail.
Both face the potential of substantially enhanced stays in the penitentiary if they’re convicted of the slew of charges they face.
Whether they stand pat or end up folding, they’re running out of moves as the stakes continue to rise.