Former property manager pleads guilty in HOA investigation

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published October 24, 2011  

Another defendant pleaded guilty Friday in the high-profile federal investigation into fraud and corruption at Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations.

Mary Ann Watts, 64, a former property manager at Vistana in southwest Las Vegas, entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

She is the seventh defendant to plead guilty in the far-reaching probe, which has targeted lawyers, judges and former police officers.

U.S. District Judge James Mahan set a Jan. 20 sentencing.

In a 14-page plea agreement, Watts admitted playing a role in the massive scheme to stack homeowners association boards with members who pushed for construction defect lawsuits against builders. A dozen homeowners associations have been dragged into the investigation.

She admitted participating in the scheme from the spring of 2006 through February 2009.

Watts admitted helping rig a homeowners association election at Vistana in November 2006, "by ceding her role as community manager and providing the election ballots to a co-conspirator attorney acting as a special election master," the agreement said.

Her plea is the latest in a long line of deals expected in the high-profile case.

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

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

With the help of friendly homeowners association board members, 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, court documents 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.

On Thursday, Edward Lugo, who served on the board of the Park Avenue condominium complex in the south valley, entered a guilty plea to the same charge.

Lugo, 47, who lives in the Los Angeles area, admitted in his plea agreement that he became a "straw purchaser" to get elected to the Park Avenue homeowners association board.

He also admitted helping rig various association elections and managing a "bill pay program" for his co-conspirators that funded other straw buyers around the Las Vegas Valley.

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