Ex-HOA board member is ninth to get plea deal

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published November 12, 2011  

Another former homeowners association board member pleaded guilty Wednesday in the high-profile federal investigation into fraud and corruption at Las Vegas Valley associations.

Daniel Solomon, 39, a Las Vegas man who served on the board of the southwest valley's Vistana condominium complex, is the ninth defendant to strike a deal with the government in the far-reaching investigation, which has targeted lawyers, judges and former police officers.

Solomon pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and will appear before Senior U.S. District Judge Lloyd George on Feb. 23 for sentencing.

In his plea agreement, Solomon admitted playing a role in the scheme to take control of homeowners association boards with members who pushed for construction defect lawsuits against builders. A dozen homeowners associations have been dragged into the investigation.

Solomon admitted that he became a "straw purchaser" of a Vistana condominium so that he could get elected to the board and steer business to his co-conspirators. His participation in the scheme took place from January 2006 through February 2009.

Solomon also admitted that, while a member of the Vistana board, he participated in several votes that benefited his co-conspirators.

In one of those votes, the board approved a $19 million construction defect settlement, and in another one it awarded the repair work. The $19 million settlement was obtained by construction defects lawyer Nancy Quon, who is believed to be one of the unnamed co-conspirators described in court documents in the case. The repairs were done by Silver Lining Construction and its former owner, Leon Benzer, two of the other unnamed co-conspirators.

Neither Quon nor Benzer have been charged in the investigation, but are key targets. Quon is facing an array of local criminal charges, including arson and insurance fraud, stemming from a suspicious fire last year at her Rhodes Ranch home. Prosecutors have alleged she set the fire in a botched suicide plot to escape the pressure of the federal investigation. She has denied the allegations.

The offices of both Quon and Benzer were among those searched in a September 2008 FBI-police raid in the investigation. IRS Criminal Investigation in Las Vegas also has been participating in the massive probe.

When George asked Solomon in court Wednesday how he pleaded to the federal conspiracy charge, Solomon responded, "Guilty, your honor."

Solomon agreed to pay up to $155,229 in restitution to the lenders who financed the condominium he bought with the help of his co-conspirators.

Afterward, Solomon, who was allowed to remain free on his own recognizance, declined comment.

His lawyer, Jack Buchanan, said Solomon looked forward to his sentencing, when he can explain his "minimal level of culpability" in the scheme.

Solomon's plea is the latest in a long line of deals expected in the high-profile federal case.

Lawyers from the Justice Department's fraud section in Washington, D.C., plan to file as many as two dozen plea deals.

Solomon and the other defendants who have pleaded guilty all have agreed to testify for prosecutors in their push to indict higher-level players.

With the help of friendly homeowners association board members, legal work and repair contracts were funneled to lawyers and companies associated with the scheme at the expense of the homeowners, who were deprived of honest voting on their boards, court documents in the investigation have alleged.

The board members were straw purchasers elected by the co-conspirators through classic dirty campaigning that included conducting phony polling, hiring private investigators to dig up dirt on candidates, and rigging the balloting, the documents alleged.

Earlier this year, longtime Republican strategist Steve Wark, another former Vistana board member and straw buyer, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Wark, 54, is to be sentenced before George on Dec. 16.

Last month David Amesbury, a Las Vegas attorney who once ran a popular courthouse restaurant, became the first lawyer to enter a felony plea in the long-running investigation.

Amesbury, 57, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

He admitted that between March and September 2008, he was paid a $3,000 kickback by his co-conspirators to help rig board elections at Chateau Nouveau and Pebble Creek.

Amesbury also admitted that he participated in a separate scheme to defraud banks while seeking refinancing for what is believed to be the Courthouse Cafe, which he operated in the Regional Justice Center under a Clark County contract with Benzer and another partner, former Las Vegas police Lt. Benjamin Kim.

All three partners ran the Courthouse Cafe until January, when they had a falling out under the weight of the federal investigation and turned over their restaurant rights with county approval to Capriotti's Sandwich Shop, a national chain based in Las Vegas. Kim has not been charged in the investigation.

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