WASHINGTON – Fourteen individuals pleaded guilty yesterday in the District of Nevada for their roles in the scheme to fraudulently take control of various home owners’ associations (HOAs) in the Las Vegas area, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, FBI Special Agent in Charge Kevin Favreau of the Las Vegas Field Office, Sheriff Doug Gillespie of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Richard Weber, Chief of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), announced today.
According to plea documents, the defendants each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The defendants who pleaded guilty today include: Rosalio Alcantar, 60; Patrick Bergsrud, 43; Robert Bolten, 44; Glenn Brown, 52; Paul Citelli, 59; Michelle DeLuca, 51; Charles Hawkins, 51; Sami Robert Hindiyeh, 54; Lisa Kim, 47; Brian Jones, 38; Morris Mattingly, 51; Frank Sutton, 58; Anthony Roy Wilson, 34; and Jeanne Winkler, 44.
According to court documents, the fraud scheme operated from approximately August 2003 through February 2009 with various co-conspirators joining that scheme at different times. The conspirators operated the scheme to direct construction defect litigation and repairs at condominium complexes to a particular law firm and construction company.
In order to accomplish the scheme, certain co-conspirators identified HOAs that could potentially bring construction defect cases. Once identified, the co-conspirators enlisted real estate agents to identify condominium units within the HOA communities for purchase. The co-conspirators then enlisted individuals as straw purchasers to use their names and credit to purchase condominiums in the complexes. The defendants admitted that the co-conspirators provided the down payments and monthly payments to the straw purchasers, including HOA dues and mortgage payments, and that various false and misleading statements were made to secure financing for the properties. Certain co-conspirators operated and managed the payments associated with these properties. The payments were often wired between California and Nevada.
Bergsrud and Wilson admitted in their plea documents that they acted as real estate agents for the purpose of identifying units in HOA communities for use by the co-conspirators and to assist with the property transfer documents. Wilson also assisted the conspiracy by developing ways to increase capital, such as refinancing some of the units to recapture the down payments and other fees, and also in managing the finances for the properties. Bergsrud, Bolten, Citelli, Hawkins, Mattingly and Sutton admitted in their plea documents that they acted as straw purchasers at various condominium complexes.
Alcantar admitted that he opened, operated and managed five bank accounts on behalf of the co-conspirator construction company owner, using names of shell limited liability companies for the purpose of concealing the identity of the individuals funding the conspiracy. Alcantar managed the transfer of more than $8 million during the time period of the conspiracy, including deposits made from the co-conspirator construction defect attorney.
According to plea documents, on several occasions the co-conspirators transferred a partial interest in a particular condominium to another co-conspirator for the purpose of making it appear as if the co-conspirator was a bona fide homeowner in the community and could thereby stand for election to the HOA board of directors. Many of the straw purchasers and those who acquired a transferred interest in an HOA community agreed with co-conspirators to use their ownership interest to run for election to the respective HOA board of directors. It was through the boards of directors that the conspirators controlled the activities at the HOAs.
According to plea documents, Bergsrud, Hawkins, DeLuca, Mattingly and Sutton agreed to become board members at certain condominium complexes and thereafter breached their fiduciary duties to the homeowners, using their positions to vote in furtherance of the conspiracy.
To ensure the co-conspirators won the elections, the co-conspirators at times employed deceitful tactics, such as submitting fake and forged ballots. Some of these ballots were sent through the U.S. mail.
On several occasions, co-conspirators attempted to create the appearance that the elections were legitimate. This was done at times by hiring attorneys to run the HOA board elections as “special election masters,” to preside over the HOA board elections and supervise the counting of ballots. The “special election masters” were complicit and part of the conspiracy. They allowed co-conspirators to access the ballots for the purpose of opening the ballots and influencing the results to ensure certain co-conspirator candidates won the election.
Brown and Hindiyeh admitted in plea documents that they assisted in the HOA election rigging. Jones admitted that he acted as a special election master for certain HOA elections and allowed co-conspirators to access the ballots and alter the votes in favor of co-conspirator candidates. Wilson also admitted that he assisted in promoting the co-conspirator candidates in elections.
Once elected, the co-conspirator board members met with 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. Once hired, co-conspirators, including property managers and general counsel, often recommended that the HOA board hire the co-conspirator construction company for construction defect repairs and the co-conspirator law firm to handle the construction defect litigation.
Kim admitted that she agreed with the co-conspirators to become a property manager at a condominium complex. She knew the co-conspirator controlled board would manipulate their votes to hire her company. Kim used her position as the property manager to help the co-conspirators falsify ballots and retain their positions on the HOA board.
Winkler admitted in plea documents that she agreed to become the general counsel for the Vistana condominium complex. She bid for a position as general counsel knowing that she had a prior attorney-client and financial relationship with the co-conspirator construction company owner who intended to direct the board to award the construction defect repair contract to him. Winkler admitted that she used her position to handle legal matters for the HOA as directed by her co-conspirators and that she violated her fiduciary duties to the bona fide homeowners.
According to court documents, the defendants admitted that they were each given cash or things of value for their assistance in purchasing the properties, obtaining HOA membership status, rigging elections, or using their position to manipulate the HOA’s business to enrich the co-conspirators at the expense of the HOA and the legitimate homeowners.
The maximum prison sentence for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud is 30 years.
Ten other individuals pleaded guilty in 2011 as part of the government’s ongoing criminal investigation of activities related to various Las Vegas HOAs.
The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Charles La Bella and Trial Attorney Mary Ann McCarthy of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The case is being investigated by the FBI and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Criminal Intelligence Section.
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.