WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury in Nevada today returned an indictment against 11 individuals for their alleged roles in a scheme to fraudulently take control of homeowners’ associations in the Las Vegas area. The indictment was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting FBI Special Agent in Charge William C. Woerner of the Las Vegas Field Office, Sheriff Douglas C. Gillespie of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Richard Weber, Chief of IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).
The charged defendants, all from the Las Vegas area, include: Jose Luis Alvarez, 45; Rodolfo Alvarez-Rodriguez, 44; Ricky Anderson, 49; David Ball, 44; Leon Benzer, 46; Edith Gillespie, 51; Keith Gregory, 59; Maria Limon, 45; Barry Levinson, 45; Charles McChesney, 47; and Salvatore Ruvolo, 84. Each is indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Most of the defendants are also variously charged with individual counts of mail fraud and/or wire fraud. Limon is additionally charged with making a false statement to law enforcement.
According to court documents, the fraud scheme operated from approximately August 2003 through February 2009 to direct construction defect litigation and repairs at condominium complexes to a particular, conspiring law firm and Benzer’s construction company, Silver Lining Construction (SLC).
In order to accomplish the scheme, according to the indictment, Benzer and co-conspirators identified homeowners’ associations (HOAs) that could potentially bring construction defect cases. They then allegedly enlisted real estate agents to identify condominium units within the HOA communities for purchase.
According to court documents, Benzer and others, including Gillespie, then enlisted “straw purchasers” to use their names and credit to purchase condos in the complexes. The indictment alleges that Alvarez, Alvarez-Rodriguez, Anderson, Ball, Gillespie, Limon, McChesney and Ruvolo acted as straw purchasers. On at least 37 occasions, Benzer and certain co-conspirators allegedly provided the down payments and monthly payments on behalf of the straw purchasers, including HOA dues and mortgage payments, and various false and misleading statements were made to secure financing for the properties. To manage the properties, Benzer and others allegedly conspired to open at least five bank accounts through which they moved more than $8 million. Eventually, 33 of the 37 units went into foreclosure.
According to court documents, on several occasions and at the direction of Benzer, co-conspirators transferred a partial interest in particular condominiums to other co-conspirators to make them look like homeowners who could stand for election to the HOA board of directors, which many of these individuals and the straw purchasers agreed to do. To ensure conspirators won the elections, according to the indictment, the defendants employed deceitful tactics, such as submitting fake and forged ballots, some of which were sent through the U.S. mail. Co-conspirators also hired complicit attorneys to run the HOA board elections as “special election masters,” to preside over the HOA board elections and supervise the counting of ballots.
Once elected, according to the indictment, the conspiring board members met with Benzer and other co-conspirators in order to manipulate board votes and process, including the selection of property managers, contractors, general counsel and attorneys to represent the HOA – including Benzer’s construction company and the conspiring law firm. Gregory and Levinson, both attorneys licensed in Nevada, allegedly agreed to become the general counsel for the Vistana and Sunset Cliffs; and Park Avenue and Pebble Creek complexes, respectively.
Limon, Benzer and others also allegedly agreed to open a property management company in order to provide services at Chateau Nouveau and other condo complexes in furtherance of the scheme. According to the indictment, Limon falsely told law enforcement officials she did not communicate with Benzer about this and did not know he funded and controlled her company.
At the conclusion of the scheme, millions of dollars of Vistana’s construction defect settlement proceeds were transferred to Benzer and SLC, according to the indictment.
According to court documents, the defendants were each given cash or things of value from Benzer and others for their alleged roles in the conspiracy.
The maximum potential penalty for each count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, mail fraud, or wire fraud is 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The maximum potential penalty for making a false official statement is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The charges and allegations against the indicted defendants are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty. Twenty-six other individuals have entered guilty pleas in this case and await sentencing. The investigation is ongoing.
The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Charles La Bella, Trial Attorneys Thomas B.W. Hall and Mary Ann McCarthy and Senior Deputy Chief Kathleen McGovern of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The case is being investigated by the FBI, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Criminal Intelligence Section, and IRS-CI.
This prosecution is part of efforts underway by President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information about the task force visit: www.stopfraud.gov.