Fourth person pleads guilty in HOA fraud probe
Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal
By Jeff German
Published September 25, 2011
Federal prosecutors kept the ball rolling Friday with a fourth guilty plea in the sweeping investigation into fraud and corruption at Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations.
Deborah Genato, 40, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Senior U.S. District Judge Lloyd George set a Jan. 6 sentencing.
Genato, who is free on her own recognizance, worked for Platinum Community Services, which managed homeowners associations involved.
When George asked her how she pleaded to the felony charge, Genato responded, "Guilty, sir."
Afterward, her lawyer, Mace Yampolsky, insisted that Genato was not a major player in the conspiracy.
"Based on her role in the grand scheme of things, she deserves probation," Yampolsky said.
Genato has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and pay up to $30,000 in restitution to homeowners associations.
Her plea is the latest in what is expected to be a long line of deals in the far-reaching case.
Lawyers from the Justice Department's Fraud Section in Washington, D.C., are looking to file as many as two-dozen criminal cases over the next several weeks. The defendants in the cases have agreements to testify in a push by prosecutors to indict higher-level players who include lawyers, judges and former police officers.
Three other plea deals have been made public since Aug. 30.
Last week, Marcella Triana, 35, who once had a personal relationship with former construction company owner Leon Benzer, a key target of the investigation, entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
Prior to her deal, longtime Republican strategist Steve Wark, 54, and another Las Vegan, Darryl Scott Nichols, 47, each pleaded guilty to the same charge, which can draw up to 30 years in prison.
All four defendants, however, aren't likely get anywhere near that stiff a sentence because of their cooperation with the government.
Federal court documents alleged that lucrative 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.
The board members friendly to the co-conspirators were "straw purchasers" in the developments and 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.
According to new documents unsealed Friday in Genato's case, Genato allegedly accepted payments from her co-conspirators to help them fix homeowners association elections.
"Defendant Genato participated in rigging the HOA board elections at Vistana, Park Avenue and Chateau Nouveau by using her position as the property manager to provide the mailing lists, labels and other voting material that the co-conspirators used to create fake ballots," the documents alleged.
"She also allowed the co-conspirators to gain access to those ballots that were mailed to the property management company by the bona fide homeowners before the election date."
Genato also used her position to help "manipulate" the business of the three homeowners associations to line the pockets of the co-conspirators at the expense of the homeowners, the documents alleged.
At Vistana and Park Avenue, the documents alleged, Genato recommended hiring two of her co-conspirators -- a law firm to file construction defect lawsuits and a construction company to do the repairs.
The documents do not identify the co-conspirators.