The former owner of a Las Vegas construction firm will serve 15.5 years in a federal prison for his role in an elaborate scheme to take over the city's homeowners' associations and divert their construction contracts to his company. U.S. District Judge James Mahan also ordered the former owner to serve five years of supervised release after prison and to pay restitution costs of $13.4 million.
Leon Benzer, whom the media refer to as a "construction boss" and "crime kingpin," is one of 42 people who have been convicted of crimes in connection with the scheme. Benzer pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges in January.
According to the FBI, Benzer, "recruited and paid off puppets" to serve on the boards of homeowners’ associations and steer lucrative contracts to his company — which he called Silver Lining Construction — and to the businesses of his friends.
Lawyers with the Criminal Division's Fraud Section wrote in court papers that the major conspiracy resulted in defrauded mortgage companies, homeowners with lower property values and homeowners' associations with poor repair work.
"It was mind-boggling — the corruption," the judge said. "This whole thing was really very unsettling. The scope of it, the scale of it was absolutely astounding."
The construction sector saw an unusual amount of high-profile legal activity this week.
Two construction managers and their companies were indicted on Wednesday and charged with second-degree manslaughter, reckless endangerment and criminally negligent homicide for their alleged role in the death of a worker who was crushed to death when an unsecured trench collapsed on him in New York City.
The owner and a project manager of a California construction company on Monday were sentenced to two years in prison on similar charges for what Cal/OSHA called the "preventable death" of a day laborer who was buried alive by a falling concrete retaining wall in 2012.
And federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged seven Florida construction executives with fraud for allegedly stealing $36 million in U.S. tax credits that were designated for government-subsidized, affordable housing in the Miami area.