11 more suspects indicted in ongoing HOA fraud investigation

Federal prosecutors have charged 11 more people in Las Vegas Valley with a complex scheme to take control of local homeowners’ associations and steer business to a law firm and construction company.

A grand jury on Tuesday indicted the group, charging them each with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Most were also charged with committing mail or wire fraud, and one was accused of making a false statement to law enforcement, according to the FBI.

They face up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine on most charges.

Twenty-six others have entered guilty pleas in connection with the case and are awaiting sentencing.

The newest defendants include 46-year-old Leon Benzer. His company, Silver Lining Construction, was poised to benefit from the scheme with condominium repair work, prosecutors alleged.

Others charged were: Jose Luis Alvarez, 45; Rodolfo Alvarez-Rodriguez, 44; Ricky Anderson, 49; David Ball, 44; Edith Gillespie, 51; Keith Gregory, 59; Maria Limon, 45; Barry Levinson, 45; Charles McChesney, 47; and Salvatore Ruvolo, 84.

The group allegedly operated the scheme from about August 2003 through February 2009. They looked for HOAs that could potentially file construction-defect lawsuits and then bought condos at those complexes, prosecutors said.

Benzer and others, including Gillespie, then enlisted “straw purchasers” to buy the condos in their names, the FBI said. Alvarez, Alvarez-Rodriguez, Anderson, Ball, Gillespie, Limon, McChesney, and Ruvolo allegedly acted as those front men.

Benzer and others allegedly provided down payments and monthly fees — including HOA dues and mortgage payments — on behalf of the straw buyers at least 37 times. Ultimately, 33 of the 37 units went into foreclosure.

Many times, and at Benzer’s direction, members of the accused group transferred ownership stakes in certain condos to other members of the group “to make them look like homeowners who could stand for election to the HOA board of directors,” federal officials said.

To ensure they won, the accused used “deceitful tactics, such as submitting fake and forged ballots, some of which were sent through the U.S. mail,” officials said. They also allegedly hired “complicit” lawyers to preside over the elections and supervise the ballot counting.

Once elected, the board members met with Benzer and others in order to “manipulate” board votes and processes, including the selection of property managers, contractors and HOA attorneys.

For one complex, millions of dollars of construction-defect settlement proceeds were transferred to Benzer and his company, according to the indictment.

The defendants were each given cash or other items of value from Benzer and others for their alleged roles in the conspiracy, the FBI said.