Key figures in the Las Vegas-area homeowner association criminal investigation have now been hit with a class-action civil lawsuit.
The suit, filed Tuesday in Clark County District Court, says attorney Nancy Quon and others conspired to rig HOA board elections with ''straw'' home buyers who would help funnel legal and repair work stemming from developments' construction defects to Quon and construction companies allegedly involved in the shceme.
While HOAs are sometimes sued over various issues, this appears to be the first civil class-action lawsuit against Quon and the HOAs over the allegedly rigged HOA elections and defect lawsuits.
Prosecutors in a separate federal criminal probe of the HOAs so far have gained 10 guilty pleas — with more expected — in the scheme they say ran from 2003 to 2009.
Besides Quon, defendants in the civil suit are construction company owner Leon Benzer; attorney David Amesbury, Angela Esparza, Deborah Genato, Denise Keser, Darryl Scott Nichols, Daniel J. Solomon, Marcella Z. Triana, political operative Steven Wark and Mary Ann Watts.
The suit says some defendants, including Quon, Benzer and Amesbury, set up companies to buy properties with the goal of landing construction defect lawsuit work for Quon, who would then ''litigate alleged construction defect suits against the contractors responsible for building the defective buildings and then ultimately attempted to settle out of court for millions of dollars.''
Some of the settlement money was used for ''minor and superficial repairs,'' with the rest of it distributed to the co-conspirators, the suit says.
The suit says the straw purchasers included Esparza, Nichols, Solomon, Triana and Wark.
It says Genato, Keser and Watts were community and property managers who ''participated with the other co-conspirators in the scheme to rig HOA board elections, select construction contracts and litigate construction defect lawsuits.''
Also sued were the HOAs or condominium unit owners associations for the following developments: Chateau Versailles, Palmilla, Park Avenue, Pebble Creek, Sunset Cliffs and Vistana.
Corporate defendants in the suit are David C. Amesbury Inc., Platinum Community Services LLC and Benzer’s firm Silver Lining Construction LLC.
Unnamed "Doe conspirators" and "Roe corporations" may be added to the suit later.
The suit claims home and condominium owners in the developments involved in the suit have seen their property values decline because of the alleged conspiracy.
The suit says the drop is "due to a combination of negative publicity, which left a negative stigma on their properties, issues with the title of their home and the diminution of the values of their home by at least 5 percent due to the instigation of frivolous construction defect lawsuits.''
The suit includes a count of "intentional interference with prospective economic advantage," saying the homeowner plaintiffs have a prospective contractual relationship with future buyers and renters of their properties and that the defendants interfered with the relationship.
''The defendants have interfered with the bona fide homeowners’ ability to resell their homes,'' the suit says.
The property owners, who are represented by the Las Vegas law firm Callister + Associates LLC, also allege civil conspiracy and negligence and are demanding unspecified damages including punitive damages.
In the criminal case, those who have pleaded guilty so far are Amesbury, Wark, Esparza, Genato, Keser, Nichols, Solomon, Triana and Watts. Also pleading guilty was Edward Lugo, who was not named as a defendant in this week’s lawsuit. Charges to which those individuals entered guilty pleas include mail and wire fraud.
Quon and Benzer, who are thought to be at the center of the probe and have been implicated in court by the other defendants, have not been charged in the federal criminal cases.
A request for comment on the new civil suit was placed Friday with attorneys for Quon.
Benzer couldn’t immediately be located, as the phone number at Silver Lining Construction is no longer operational.