Ex-Metro lieutenant testifies he helped rig HOA elections

A retired Las Vegas police lieutenant who pleaded guilty in the massive scheme to take over homeowners associations said Friday he was testifying for the government to “right a wrong.”

“I know I was wrong,” Morris Mattingly told a federal jury. “I’m man enough to admit it.”

Mattingly, who once headed security for a construction company owned by Leon Benzer, the scheme’s mastermind, testified he helped rig elections and voted for Benzer’s financial interests as a key member of the Vistana HOA board in two separate stints between 2004 and 2008.

Mattingly is one of 37 people, including Benzer, who pleaded guilty in the scheme, which federal prosecutors allege defrauded as many as 11 HOAs of millions of dollars.

Las Vegas attorney Keith Gregory, one of Benzer’s former attorneys, and three other remaining defendants are standing trial on conspiracy and fraud charges in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge James Mahan.

The other defendants are Benzer’s half-sister Edith Gillespie, who prosecutors say recruited straw buyers; Salvatore Ruvolo, who prosecutors say was a Benzer-controlled HOA board member at Park Avenue and Chateau Nouveau; and David Ball, who Benzer is alleged to have placed on the Chateau Nouveau board.

Mattingly’s testimony came at the end of the second week of testimony. Prosecutors said they expect to wrap up their case by Tuesday, which will give the defense a chance to present witnesses.

Mattingly, who spent more than 20 years on the police force, said he was asked to bring “a bunch” of phony ballots to community management firms for two HOA elections during the scheme. The first time he botched the delivery and fell out of favor with Benzer, eventually losing his security job with Silver Lining Construction and his place to stay at condominium owned by Benzer at another development.

But months later, he said, he was approached by Benzer’s right-hand man, Ralph Priola, and asked to run again for a seat on the Vistana HOA board.

Mattingly told the jury he agreed to do it on the condition he get back the $4,000-a-month salary he was making as the construction company’s security director.

As a result of another fixed election, Mattingly testified, he was elected again and served for several months, receiving $4,000 in cash each month in an envelope from Priola.

Earlier last week, Priola, who also pleaded guilty, spent two days on the witness stand laying out the scheme for prosecutors. Benzer does not have a cooperation agreement with prosecutors. He is on both government and defense witness lists, but is unlikely to be called because his lawyer has said he would assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when questioned in court. Benzer is waiting to be sentenced.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ.

Federal judge refuses to dismiss Las Vegas HOA case

A federal judge Thursday recommended denying a defense motion to dismiss charges against key defendants in the homeowners association fraud case because of government misconduct.

The eight-page decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr. paves the way for former construction company boss Leon Benzer, attorney Keith Gregory and four other defendants to stand trial on fraud and conspiracy charges Feb. 23 in the scheme to unlawfully take over 11 HOAs around the valley.

Defense lawyers for Benzer and Gregory can ask U.S. District Judge James Mahan, who will preside over the expected two-month trial, to reject Foley’s recommendation.

The lawyers contended prosecutors committed misconduct that allowed the Las Vegas Review-Journal to publish an Oct. 30 article revealing details of failed plea negotiations between prosecutors and Benzer.

The article, which contained information Benzer provided investigators during secret talks in 2011, was based on government reports the newspaper obtained from the electronic court docket while they were public for two days in September.

The investigative reports have since been sealed and stricken from the court record. The reports describe how Benzer corrupted HOA boards through bribery and election rigging to obtain millions of dollars in construction defect contracts.

In his decision Thursday, Foley said he found no government misconduct that rose to the level of dismissing the case.

He also went to the unusual step of taking part of the blame for how Benzer’s secret deal became public.

Foley said he should not have unsealed the reports without allowing Benzer’s lead lawyer, Daniel Albregts, a chance to address the issue. He said he also should have given Gregory’s attorneys, who filed the reports under seal, a chance to withdraw them.

Prosecutors had opposed the effort by Gregory’s lawyers to file the FBI and police reports under seal.

Defense lawyers suggested in court papers that the Review-Journal got the reports from prosecutors, an allegation denied by both the prosecutors and Review-Journal.

Albregts filed a motion under seal seeking a subpoena for the Review-Journal’s court billing records in an effort to support the unsubstantiated defense claim.

But Review-Journal lawyer Maggie McLetchie responded with a court filing putting Albregts on notice the newspaper would move to quash a subpoena for records. Foley then denied Albregts’ secret request.

Last month, Foley denied a defense request to move the trial out of Las Vegas because of what the lawyers said was prejudicial news coverage by the Review-Journal that made it impossible for Benzer and Gregory to get a fair trial.

Foley ruled the newspaper’s stories were “factual in nature” and not inflammatory, as the defense argued. Any potential jurors influenced by the news coverage could be weeded out during the selection process at trial, Foley said.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter

SOURCE: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/federal-judge-refuses-dismiss-hoa-case

Nevada U.S. Attorney sees rise in number of corrupt Nevada lawyers prosecuted

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Las Vegas Review Journal - Tonja Brown "The Nolan Klein Story"

Nevada ranks number one in the Country for the most corrupt attorneys… We need to clean up the corruption within our judicial system and it starts with arresting and prosecuting the corrupt attorneys and judges!

Massive CRIME SCENE at Nevada attorney General Office in Carson City because of the rampant corruption in the CORRUPT Nevada Courts 
LVRJ News source: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/crime-courts/nevada-us-attorney-sees-rise-number-lawyers-prosecuted

bad lawyers judges

Prosecutors have noticed an “alarming” number of lawyers convicted of serious crimes in federal court in the past several years.tatro corrupt

A total of 23 lawyers, mostly from Las Vegas, have been convicted since 2008, according to the Nevada U.S. attorney’s office.

Since 2011, the number of convictions have increased nearly five times over the previous three years, records show.

There were four convictions between 2008 and 2010, but 19 between 2011 and this year. Eight attorneys either pleaded guilty or were convicted by a jury in 2013 alone.

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Dan Bogdenusdoj“In the last several years, the number of lawyers charged with federal crimes has increased dramatically,” U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden says.

“Although we cannot speculate as to the reason for the rise in numbers, we can say that it is embarrassing and sad when lawyers violate the very laws they have taken an oath to uphold.”

Bogden calls the growing rate of attorney prosecutions “alarming” in his 2013 annual report on the accomplishments of his office.

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He isn’t alone in noticing the increase.crime

“There’s been a significant uptick,” says David Clark, the chief counsel for the State Bar of Nevada, which regulates lawyers. “It’s a combination of economic realities and the increased vigilance on the part of federal prosecutors to go after lawyers.”

Clark says attorneys have struggled in the failing economy just like everyone else and have been forced to look for other ways to make money, sometimes landing in legal and professional trouble.

Of the 23 convictions since 2008, a total of 19 involved financial crimes such as tax evasion, bank fraud and mortgage fraud, records show.

Bankruptcy attorney Randolph Goldberg pleaded guilty to tax evasion last year and is now serving a 1½-year sentence in federal prison. Defense lawyer and former prosecutor Paul Wommer, who was convicted by a jury of tax evasion last year, is serving a nearly 3½-year prison sentence. Both are temporarily suspended and can expect more disciplinary action from the State Bar when they get out of prison.

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disbarredBusiness Woman Series 24Four Las Vegas attorneys — the late David Amesbury, Jeanne Winkler, Barry Levinson and Brian Jones — pleaded guilty to fraud charges in the federal investigation into the massive takeover of Las Vegas-area homeowners associations.

Amesbury killed himself weeks after he pleaded guilty, and the other three lawyers are cooperating with prosecutors and waiting to be sentenced.

Another attorney, Keith Gregory, is to stand trial in October in the HOA case, and one key target, attorney Nancy Quon, committed suicide before federal authorities could charge her.

Winkler was disbarred in 2011 for stealing money from her clients, and Levinson agreed to disbarment as part of the plea deal he struck with federal prosecutors earlier this year. He is currently suspended from practicing law.

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Other well-known lawyers have run afoul of the law:

■ Harvey Whittemore, a onetime political power broker, was convicted last year of unlawfully funneling more than $133,000 to the campaign of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. He was sentenced to two years in prison and must surrender in August. Whittemore is temporarily suspended from practicing law while the State Bar considers further action.

■ Noel Gage, who specialized in personal injury cases, pleaded guilty in 2010 to obstruction of justice in a federal investigation into an alleged fraud scheme involving a network of lawyers and physicians. He was sentenced to three years probation. Gage is off probation and his law license is temporarily suspended until the end of July. He must apply for reinstatement.

■ Lawrence Davidson, caught up in a political corruption probe a dozen years ago, pleaded guilty to mail fraud, money laundering and several other charges, including those related to his unlawful flight to Israel in 2006 to avoid standing trial. Davidson agreed to disbarment in 2005 after he was originally charged. He eventually returned to Las Vegas and was sentenced in 2012 to eight years in prison.

■ Gerry Zobrist, once a part-time Las Vegas justice of the peace, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud in a multimillion-dollar scheme to use straw buyers to unlawfully purchase homes in the valley. He was sentenced to seven years in federal prison. His law license has been suspended pending further disciplinary action.

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REASON FOR THE RISE

drunk lawyerThomas Pitaro, a respected criminal defense lawyer who has been practicing in Las Vegas for 40 years, says the stress of the legal profession likely has contributed to the rise in criminal prosecutions of attorneys.coke

“I think there are very few attorneys who steal for the hell of it,” Pitaro says. “It’s systematic of other problems — drugs, alcohol, gambling and living above their means.”

Pitaro also believes federal authorities are spending more time investigating white collar and financial crimes that have a higher probability of involving lawyers and other professionals.

Clark says his organization has stepped up its own vigilance of lawyers in recent years and has been working closely with law enforcement authorities.

“We’ve been sharing more information and developing more contacts with law enforcement,” he explains.

Clark points to the Levinson case as a prime example of the State Bar’s strong working relationship with police and federal authorities.

At one point, Las Vegas police, federal authorities and the State Bar all were working cases against Levinson at the same time, Clark says.

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In his federal deal, Levinson not only pleaded guilty in the HOA fraud case, but he also pleaded guilty to tax evasion and embezzling more than $243,000 from his clients. His deal calls for him to receive no less than two years in prison. Any time behind bars he gets in state court on theft charges will run concurrently with his federal sentence.

Levinson’s willingness to agree to disbarment in his federal plea was a first for prosecutors and the State Bar. Goldberg last year agreed to a two-year suspension in his federal plea agreement.

“It shows the evolution of our cooperation with law enforcement authorities,” Clark says.

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NEVADA STATE BAR DISCIPLINE

Something else that is evolving is the State Bar’s approach to disciplining lawyers.

bad lawyers nevadaA Nevada Supreme Court rule says the State Bar can move to temporarily suspend a lawyer upon a “final judgment of conviction,” and the bar has waited over the years until a lawyer is sentenced. That’s when the federal courts, which see most of the criminal cases, recognize a final judgment of conviction.

But two criminal cases against lawyers, one in Clark County District Court and another in federal court, has Clark looking for temporary suspensions before sentencing.

The District Court case is against defense attorney Brian Bloomfield, who pleaded guilty in December to felony charges stemming from a fraud investigation into a sweeping courthouse counseling scheme. Bloomfield has continued to represent clients in court the past six months while waiting to be sentenced.

The federal case involves Brian Jones, who pleaded guilty in the HOA case more than two years ago and is also waiting to be sentenced. Jones has since moved to Utah and is not practicing law in Las Vegas, but his license remains active.how-our-courts-are-used-by-criminals

Last month Clark filed a petition with the state Supreme Court seeking a temporary suspension for Bloomfield while the State Bar prepares to file a complaint against him that could lead to his disbarment.

The State Bar counsel filed a similar petition last week to get Jones temporarily suspended.

Clark is hoping the Supreme Court will more clearly define the broad rule, which also allows the State Bar to seek a suspension after a guilty plea or jury conviction.

“In the past this hasn’t been so much of a problem because there hasn’t been a long disconnect between a guilty plea and a sentencing,” Clark recently said. “But lately, we’ve been seeing a greater delay.”