New details surfaced Thursday — including on the role of real estate agents — in the long-running criminal investigation into fraud and corruption at Las Vegas-area homeowner associations.
The details were revealed in newly unsealed plea-bargain deals for the latest 15 people to agree to plead guilty in the probe that first became public in 2008. In all, 27 people have agreed to plead guilty in the HOA probe and a related probe into bank fraud at the downtown Courthouse Cafe. More plea deals and even indictments are expected in the case.
Fourteen of the most recent 15 defendants to be named pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The 15th defendant was ill and is expected to appear in court later in the summer to plead guilty. Sentencing is planned for February.
As has been previously reported, those who had agreed to plead guilty on Thursday included two former Metro police officers, two attorneys, a property management company owner and several straw buyers.
Prosecutors say they and others schemed to install co-conspirators on HOA boards from 2003 to 2009. The boards would then award lucrative construction defect lawsuit and repair work to the alleged ringleaders — believed to be construction company owner Leon Benzer and the late attorney Nancy Quon. Attorneys participated by knowingly running rigged elections or by failing to disclose conflicts while secretly working for the benefit of the ringleaders and to the detriment of condo owners.
Benzer has not been charged and has vowed to fight allegations of wrongdoing. Quon before her death in March denied wrongdoing.
In Thursday's plea bargains, prosecutors for the first time spelled out the role of a couple of real estate agents in the scam.
Anthony Wilson, aka "Tony" Wilson, admitted in his plea bargain that as a real estate agent, his role was to find condominiums for the schemers to purchase so they could install cronies on the HOA boards. He identified at least 17 condos for purchase at various complexes and knew they would typically involve "straw buyers,'' or buyers fraudulently buying property in name only on behalf of the scam ringleaders.
Wilson also admitted to helping the straw buyers file fraudulent mortgage loan applications and at times during the scheme urged the ringleaders to pay with cash to avoid creation of a paper trail so as to hide the conspiracy.
Wilson's plea bargain says he also suggested "various schemes" involving kickbacks from HOA vendors to the ringleaders.
For his efforts, Wilson earned some $115,700 in commissions for selling condos to straw buyers and other participants in the conspiracy, his plea agreement says.
Another real estate agent, Patrick Bergsrud, admitted in his plea bargain that his role in the conspiracy also involved identifying condominiums to be purchased by his co-conspirators.
Bergsrud also acted as a straw purchaser at several HOA communities and in buying some of the condominiums in his name, he signed and submitted false and fraudulent loan applications and closing documents to banks, his plea agreement says.
Prosecutors say notary publics participated in the overall scheme by falsely notarizing some of the documents submitted to banks and other institutions.
At one condo association, Vistana, Bergsrud was elected to the HOA board of directors in what he knew was a rigged election, his plea bargain says.
Once on the board, he "breached his statutory fiduciary duty to the homeowners by accepting from his co-conspirators compensation, gratuity and other renumeration that improperly influenced his decisions, resulting on a conflict of interest,'' his plea bargain says.
Also Thursday, prosecutors revealed that as part of the overall conspiracy, now-disbarred attorney Jeanne Winkler served as an official for a group called "Safe Homes of Nevada Inc.'' that was formed in 2002 by a ringleader — believed to be Benzer — "to identify construction defect cases and raise awareness of construction defect issues at the condominium complexes in or around Las Vegas.''
Prosecutors separately revealed that as part off the scheme, more than $8 million moved through five banks accounts set up by the perpetrators in the 2000s. The accounts funded the operations of the scheme including paying its participants. An attorney and law firm — believed to be Quon and her law firm — deposited a total of $2.981 million into these accounts in three separate deposits, prosecutors said in a charging document.