LAS VEGAS (AP) - A Nevada lawyer and three co-defendants have been found guilty of conspiracy and wire fraud in what a jury was told was a sweeping scheme to control homeowner associations and steer business to favored contractors and attorneys.
The verdicts reached Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas came after a two-week trial capping an investigation that came to light in 2008 and was marked by the deaths of two lawyers with ties to the admitted mastermind of the scheme, Leon Benzer.
Benzer, 48, who owned a company called Silver Lining Construction, pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and tax evasion. He is due for sentencing Aug. 3 by U.S. District Judge James Mahan.
Another 36 people pleaded guilty in recent months. Many agreed to cooperate with the government and pay restitution to victims. Four went to trial.
The jury heard two weeks of testimony before finding Benzer’s former attorney, Keith Gregory, and his co-defendants - Salvatore Ruvolo, David Ball and Edith Gillespie - guilty of conspiracy and wire fraud. They are expected to face prison time, fines and restitution orders at their sentencings June 17.
Attorneys Loren Washburn, who represented Gregory, Brett Whipple, representing Ruvolo, and Chris Rasmussen, representing Gillespie, expressed disappointment at the convictions. Whipple and Rasmussen said Wednesday their clients will appeal. Washburn said Gregory is considering his next step.
Attorney Michael Sanft, representing Ball, didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Prosecutors said the scheme reaped millions of dollars between 2003 and 2009 by having so-called “straw buyers” purchase condominiums and run for homeowners association boards, then funneling kickbacks to them for hiring Benzer and friends to handle construction defect lawsuits and repair contracts.
Benzer and others including Nancy Quon, a construction defect lawyer who committed suicide in March 2012, were alleged to have funneled millions of dollars through secret bank accounts to fund the scheme.
Quon hadn’t been charged in the case when she died.
Another attorney, David Amesbury, a former Benzer business partner who had pleaded guilty in the case, also committed suicide in March 2012.
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