Businesswoman targets Quon, others in HOA case

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published November 12, 2011  

Businessman Leon Benzer and construction defects attorney Nancy Quon were the brains behind a massive scheme to profit from the takeover of Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations, a former property management company employee alleged in court Thursday.

Denise Keser, 44, leveled the allegations while pleading guilty to her own participation in the scheme.

Keser, the 10th defendant to strike a deal with federal prosecutors, entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro set a July 26 sentencing.

Keser admitted in court to participating in the scheme from April 2006 through February 2007. The scheme involved gaining control of homeowners association boards with members who pushed for construction defect lawsuits against builders.

A dozen homeowners associations have been dragged into the far-reaching federal investigation, which has targeted lawyers, judges and former police officers.

Keser told Navarro that she was asked to help Benzer find homeowners associations looking to pursue construction defect litigation.

Eventually, she said, she left her job at RMI Management, to open her own company with Benzer to manage homeowners associations at the southwest valley's Chateau Nouveau and other condominium complexes.

Benzer, who bankrolled the company, Crystal Management, was stacking association boards around the valley so that Quon could win support to file construction defect lawsuits and Benzer and his construction company could win approval to do the repairs, Keser alleged.

At Chateau Nouveau, Benzer had three board members on his payroll, she alleged.

Ultimately, Keser said, she decided that she didn't like what was going on, especially efforts to rig board elections with forged ballots and smear campaigns against candidates not backed by her co-conspirators. So she said she quit and went back to work for RMI Management.

"I didn't want to be a part of it," Keser told Navarro.

The judge, however, said she was concerned that Keser had stayed in the property management business and waited to inform RMI Management about her legal troubles until Wednesday night. Navarro allowed Keser to remain free on her own recognizance, but strongly urged her to find a new line of work.

Kevin Wallace, CEO and president of RMI Management, later said the company had fired Keser Thursday morning.

"RMI management is disheartened to learn of the plea deal of Denise Keser," Wallace said in a statement after the plea. "The conduct resulting in the plea occurred during Denise's employment with another management company and did not occur during her employment with RMI. As soon as we became aware of this information, RMI terminated her employment."

RMI Management, the largest manager of homeowners associations in Nevada, "is not under investigation in any way," Wallace added.

Neither Quon nor Benzer have been charged in the federal investigation, but are key targets. The offices of Quon and Benzer's former company, Silver Lining Construction, were among those searched in a September 2008 raid conducted by the FBI, Las Vegas police and IRS Criminal Investigation.

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.

On Thursday, Quon's lawyer, Thomas Pitaro, declined to comment on Keser's courtroom statements. Benzer's lawyer, Dan Albregts, could not be reached for comment.

Keser agreed in court Thursday to pay up to $16,000 in restitution, which is the amount of money she was paid during the several months she ran Crystal Management for Benzer.

Keser declined comment after her plea. But defense lawyer Kevin Stolworthy said Keser was looking to put the case behind her.

"She's happy to get this over," Stolworthy said. "She's going to move on with her life."

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

On Wednesday, Daniel Solomon, 39, a Las Vegas man who served on the board of the Vistana condominium complex, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Solomon admitted that he became a "straw purchaser" of a Vistana condominium in southwest Las Vegas so that he could get elected to the homeowners association board and steer business to his co-conspirators.

Lawyers from the Justice Department's fraud section in Washington, D.C., plan to file more than a dozen additional plea deals in the coming weeks.

Keser and the other defendants who have pleaded guilty so far, all have agreed to testify for prosecutors in their push to indict higher-level players in the scheme.

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