The number of defendants in the criminal case involving HOA corruption could eventually top 50, making this one of the larger criminal schemes in Las Vegas history. But to put things in perspective, there are 2,356 homeowner associations in Clark County and 2,979 statewide, meaning just a small fraction were affected by the scam.
Which condominium complexes were affected?
Lawsuits and federal plea bargains name these developments:
Chateau Versailles, Chateau Nouveau, Horizons at Seven Hills, Jasmine, Mission Pointe, Mission Ridge, Palmilla, Park Avenue, Pebble Creek, Sunset Cliffs, Terrasini and Vistana
Who was harmed?
Attorneys say the scam didn’t affect insurance companies that paid construction defect lawsuit settlements, since the defects were real and lawsuits would have been filed regardless of the scam.
Homeowners in at least one community — the Vistana condominiums – took a hit when, after winning a $19.1 million settlement in a defect lawsuit, the vast majority of the money wasn’t used to correct the defects.
Instead, it went to attorneys and a construction company in on the scam that then made just “nominal and superficial” repairs, claim those pressing the lawsuit.
In a lawsuit against the company, Silver Lining Construction, the Vistana homeowners say the firm received more than $7.25 million but that the value of the work performed was no more than $600,000.
Can it happen again?
During the early and mid 2000s, when the scam was operating, it wasn’t specifically illegal to rig an HOA board election. Attorneys say that’s why most of the guilty pleas so far are for wire and mail fraud.
But in response to the scam, the Legislature has made it a felony to fraudulently alter the results of an HOA election.
Who was involved?
For the most part, the 30-plus people whose names have come up in the investigation aren’t well known to most Las Vegans. They include attorneys, retired police officers and community association managers and employees.
Probably the best known name to surface is that of the late attorney Nancy Quon, once a local success story who boasted of winning more than $100 million of construction defect lawsuit settlements during her career that started in 1996 and continued strong through September 2008, when her office was searched and files seized as part of the corruption investigation.
Quon was known as an aggressive marketer of herself, for a time appearing on a TV show called “Homeowner Talk” in which she, fellow attorney John Leach and guests talked about community association and construction defect law and issues.
Interviews with those who knew and worked with Quon and those who were on the opposite side of litigation with her yielded dramatically different opinions on how deeply she may have been involved in the scam.
At minimum, she and construction company owner Leon Benzer were referring work to each other, lawsuits suggest. But when it comes to whether she was involved in rigging HOA board elections, some say she may have been duped and used by Benzer, others say she had nothing to do with it and others believe she was in on it from the beginning.
Two attorneys familiar with Quon and supportive of her believe that at times she went to law enforcement agencies with concerns about potentially rigged HOA board elections and about competing law firms winning HOA work because of their cozy ties with HOA management companies.
A third attorney familiar with Quon doubts that happened, at least when it comes to suggestions she had presented concerns to the Nevada Attorney General’s office.
Another name that continually pops up in the investigation is that of Benzer, thought to be the key target of the federal probe. He owned the now-closed Silver Lining Construction and a similarly-closed club near the Palms called Benzer’s.
Benzer, now a licensed taxi driver, was born in Long Island and established himself in the construction industry in Las Vegas in the 1990s.
Benzer doesn’t talk to the media, according to his attorney.
But online profiles say that by early 2008 — a few months before the FBI raids — he had launched his own brand of tequila, ‘’Benzila,’’ made from the agave plant at his farm in Baja, Mexico. He also had started a charity called the Benzer Autism Foundation, online profiles say.
Steve Wark, who has pleaded guilty, is known in political circles as a Republican campaign strategist and for hosting radio shows. He and his family developed a business called Revage Medical Spa.
Other alleged key players in the HOA scheme, who have been hit with criminal charges or have faced civil lawsuits, include community association managers Lisa Kim and Mary Ann Watts, the late attorney David Amesbury, disbarred attorney Jeanne Winkler and three retired Metro police officers. They are the late Lt. Christopher Van Cleef, Lt. Morris Mattingly and Capt. Frank Sutton.
Kim and her husband Ben Kim, a retired Metro lieutenant, and Amesbury separately pleaded guilty in the scam at the Courthouse Café. Ben Kim, Amesbury and Benzer were partners in the café.