The Justice Department has improved the lines of communication with angry Vistana homeowners demanding restitution from the defendants who have pleaded guilty in the massive scheme to take over valley homeowners associations.
The 10 cases filed in the sweeping investigation now appear on a Justice Department Web page for victims. People can click on each case and see the sentencing date for the defendant and gain access to the plea agreement. The page will be updated as new cases are filed.
“We’re very pleased,” said Bruce Wallace, president of the Vistana Homeowners Association board. “I think the website, itself, is useful. It helps all the homeowners keep track of the people they had to deal with while these crimes were being committed. It’s reassuring to us that the Justice Department cares about the true victims of these people’s actions.”
Lynn Williams, the board’s vice president, said the Web page will increase awareness among the 732 Vistana homeowners and maybe lead to more outrage over the actions of the defendants who victimized them.
“Now, more and more people will say, ‘Damn, I didn’t know that,’ ” said Williams, a former federal agent. “I know the system can work if you work at it.”
Board member Tony Kneip added, “It gives us a glimmer of hope. We now have a way of knowing the inner workings of the federal government with regard to the investigation.”
The board members said they were grateful for the work of the FBI and Las Vegas police in the complicated investigation.
But that hasn’t stopped the homeowners from filing letters in the Vistana-linked cases, asking the federal judges presiding over the cases to consider ordering the defendants at sentencing to pay them restitution.
In the 10 plea deals that have been reached, Justice Department prosecutors have primarily sought restitution for banks and mortgage companies caught up in the scheme — not the homeowners.
All 10 defendants who have pleaded guilty, including those tied to Vistana, have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors seeking to file charges against higher-level players in the investigation, which has targeted lawyers, judges and former police officers at a dozen homeowners associations. More plea deals are expected next month.
The scheme involved stacking homeowners association boards with members who pushed for construction defect lawsuits against builders, according to court documents and the cooperating witnesses.
The boards then steered legal and construction repair work to the chief co-conspirators in the scheme, construction defects lawyer Nancy Quon and former construction company owner Leon Benzer, according to court documents and the cooperating witnesses. Quon and Benzer have not been charged in the investigation.
The plea deals aren’t binding on the judges who will sentence the defendants, and the Vistana homeowners are hoping that the judges will consider their letters in handing out punishment.
Justice Department lawyers spearheading the prosecution can seek restitution for the homeowners from the yet-to-be charged, higher-level co-conspirators.
According to Vistana board members, former members, community managers and others involved in the scheme squandered the association’s share of a $19 million construction defects settlement won in 2007.
After lawyers fees and expenses were deducted, board members have said, the homeowners association got about $8.1 million to do repair work, the board members said. Most of that money went to Benzer’s Silver Lining Construction Co. and its subcontractors, which did “very limited” repairs