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#13739
Mickey ()
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Re: Criminals on the Condo Boards—Multi-million dollar Fraud (Part 12) 2012/02/13 16:56  
The owners re-gain control

These days, life is much quieter at the Vistana clubhouse. Amid the seasonal decorations, there are signs the residents are happily moving on from their ordeal, even as they savor the prospect of watching their former attorneys, property managers, and board members shuffle off to jail.

On one side of the clubhouse, a poster marked “Before and After” leans against the wall.

The “before” section features photos of the Vistana during the years when the straw buyers were managing the community. The images show untrimmed palm trees, broken barbecue grills, cracked pool decks, patches of dead grass, dented carports, and a busted front gate.

The “after” photos show the gradual, physical recovery of the Vistana in the time since homeowners who actually live in the community regained control of the board.

This shows that an honest board of directors can turn a troubled condo around.

On bulletin boards a few feet away, dozens of newspaper clippings from the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review-Journal chronicle the expanding number of individuals who have pled guilty in the FBI investigation. The display is labeled “Wall of Shame.”

So it looks like not only were the criminal gang after the millions in insurance money, they neglected normal maintenance as well.
M. Kutuzov
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#13740
Re: Criminals on the Condo Boards—Multi-million dollar Fraud (Part 12) 2012/02/13 17:00  
When the crooks are dragged off to jail, turn around should be easier.
Richard Forster
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#13744
Mickey ()
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Re: Criminals on the Condo Boards—Multi-million dollar Fraud (Part 13) 2012/02/14 12:58  
Falsified proxies

The condominium schadenfreude hit a new high on Aug. 30 when Wark, the former chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, appeared before a federal judge and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The maximum sentence is 30 years in prison. He is awaiting sentencing.

In court documents filed as part of the plea agreement, Wark admits to helping rig elections at the Vistana.

Like most condominium complexes built in Las Vegas during the boom, the Vistana had a high percentage of owners who were investors living out of state. According to the court documents, Wark and his crew won the elections, in part, by targeting out-of-state owners unlikely to participate in board elections.

They would fill out a ballot on the owner’s behalf without the individual’s knowledge, transport the documents to the owner’s home state, then mail the ballot back to Nevada. The ballots would arrive bearing the correct postmarks, lending the votes credibility.

The fake absentee ballots were used to tilt the campaigns in favor of the straw buyers.

Mailing across state lines made it a federal criminal offense.

When homeowners became suspicious, the court documents reveal, the conspirators would bring in supposedly independent “special election masters” to preside over the vote counting. According to several plea agreements, the election overseers were paid off, too.

I have heard several stories from condo owners who suspected that their boards used fake proxies to win elections and I was told an eye-witness account of one AGM where an owner of a property management company (well known to us all) and a crooked board got caught stuffing thirty forged proxies in a ballot box. However, these Nevada fellows are the real professionals.

If you are involved in an election where fraud is a possibility, you will need scrutineers who are aware of all the ways proxies can be falsified and if there are any questionable ballots how they should be set aside for investigation.
M. Kutuzov
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#13745
Pyxis ()
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Re: Criminals on the Condo Boards—Multi-million dollar Fraud (Part 13) 2012/02/14 13:57  
Mickey

In our case the scrutineers are only permitted to observe the counting but not to examine the valid or the disqualified proxies.

Is the role of the scrutineer described somewhere?
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#13746
Re: Criminals on the Condo Boards—Multi-million dollar Fraud (Part 13) 2012/02/14 14:39  
It's a wide open sport on both sides sometimes.

Since the ballot is not the proxy, there is no way of checking to see if the ballot completed by the proxy matches the instruction.

In some places the auditor assists.

Proxies and their use is yet another reform agenda item.

Any system that allows anyone to arrive at the door with a box of proxies, has to be a worry, if not illegal.
Richard Forster
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#13752
Mickey ()
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Re: Verifying proxies 2012/02/14 16:58  
Hi Pyxis:

Canadians brag about how they live in a democracy but very few know how to conduct an election. Union officials and people involved in political campaigns have practical experience. So do condo lawyers. Most condo owners do not have a clue.

There are some instructions for proxies in the Act.

The property management company normally verifies the proxies but unfortunately they cannot always be trusted to be fair and neutral.

If a proxy is handed in by the board members, far too often they are automatically accepted as valid. However proxies handed in by opponents to the board members may be carefully checked. (I have seen the condo's lawyer rule on proxies.)

Opponents to the sitting board must inform the management company and the corporation lawyer, prior to the meeting, that they too wish to examine all proxies prior to the handing out ballots. The procedure that will be followed should be worked out, if possible, prior to the meeting.

If your request is refused, state that if you suspect any irregularities with the voting, you may decide to challenge the election results in court. However don't say it if you don't mean it.

Even still, do the candidates, or their supporters, even know what to look for and are they prepared to examine the proxies either before the voting or afterward? Mostly likely not.

First thing that is needed a few weeks before the AGM is a list of current owners and addresses. It would be nice but unlikely the manager will also give you the phone numbers.

Go through the list looking carefully at the names of the owners and the addresses. If any of the names seem dated or wrong, have someone go down to city hall and check the city tax records for the current owners of the units.

Anyone who is in arrears for their unit fees or special assessment payments are not allowed to vote or hand in a proxy. The manager may not share that information but for reasons of contested election that information may be required to be shared with the scrutineers. Some owners will have openly told people they are not fully paid up.

Often the person living in the suite may say and act as if they are the owner but in reality a son, daughter or a parent is the legal owner. The tax records will show that. That is another way proxies can be invalid.

Sometimes renters sign proxies and the canvasser accepts them on blind faith.

If the unit is in a company's name, then it is the company's name that belongs on the proxy and a letter from an officer of that company must be attached stating that they have authority to bind the corporation. Otherwise they too are invalid proxies.

The opposition candidates need to give their scrutineers a training on what to look for before the AGM.

If you and your supporters have properly campaigned for support, you should have a list of all the owners who now are supporting you and an idea of how many owners are supporting the board. This should give you an idea of how many ballots will go in the box.

Count the total number of proxies along with the number of authorized voters in the room and make sure that total number matches the number of ballots that were counted.(Helps stop stuffed ballot boxes.)

If one of your campaign workers talked to an owner who firmly stated that he or she was not interested in attending the meeting or giving anyone a proxy and you see a proxy for that unit, challenge that proxy prior to the voting.

All of this is only necessary where there is a level of distrust between the board and the other owners and there is reason to believe that voting may be tapered with.

Also, if the opposing candidate or candidates are not prepared to mount a serious campaign to win an election or a vote for an issue, why bother? The same if there is no intention of going to court if you have evidence showing that the election was tampered with.

If after a vote, you believe there was fowl play, demand that the ballots be sealed. Even if you lose a vote to have them destroyed, insist that your demand be part of the meeting minutes.

If you are refused permission to see teh proxies prior to teh vote, then after an AGM, you can ask to inspect the proxies and pay for copies of the questionable ones. Then ask the owners in question if they are legitimate documents.

A board's failure to hold a fair election is strong grounds for a judge to order a new election or to appoint an administrator.
M. Kutuzov
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#13753
FBI only intervened 2012/02/14 17:03  
... after the bucks were siphoned, and with housing and nationwide financial collapse already on the front pages, related schemes exposed, during final days of GWBush presidency. Lots of earlier Cassandra warnings must have been made but ignored but from the de-empowered. Try Googling Nancy Quon's alleged protection within Nevada state law enforcement system.
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#13754
Mickey ()
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Re: An update on Nancy Quon 2012/02/14 17:44  
Nancy Quon's fire-damaged home lures no bids
By Jeff German
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Updated: Nov. 30, 2011 | 8:14 a.m.

The fire-damaged home at the center of the arson and insurance fraud case against attorney Nancy Quon was put up for public auction this week, but there were no bidders.

So the Florida-based mortgage company, which had foreclosed on the two-story Rhodes Ranch home, took it back.

Western Progressive, LLC, the trustee for the sale, had sought a $390,000 opening bid.

The failed sale effort follows a hefty $462,787 lien the Internal Revenue Service has filed against Quon over failure to pay taxes on income she earned as a prominent construction defects lawyer in 2009.

Her criminal defense lawyer, Thomas Pitaro, declined comment Tuesday on the latest developments.

Quon, 51, who reportedly once brought in more than $100 million in legal revenues, has been on a downward slide since she became a target more than three years ago in the sweeping federal investigation into fraud and corruption at Las Vegas Valley homeowners associations.

She testified under oath in the insurance investigation into the Oct. 28, 2010, fire that she had defaulted on $700,000 in loans on the 4,500-square-foot home to obtain lower mortgage rates.

A Clark County grand jury indicted her in August on a series of felony charges, including first-degree arson, conspiracy and insurance fraud stemming from the fire, which caused $250,000 to $300,000 in damage to the home.

County prosecutors alleged that Quon set the fire in a botched suicide attempt to escape the pressure of the mounting federal investigation. Paramedics revived an unconscious Quon at the scene of the fire and concluded she had overdosed on drugs.

The nine-count indictment also charged Quon's live-in boyfriend, former Las Vegas police officer William Ronald Webb, 43, in the arson conspiracy.

The indictment accuses Quon of "wilfully" and "maliciously" setting fire to the home. Then, with Webb's help, Quon defrauded State Farm Insurance into paying for temporary housing for the couple and structural repairs to the home knowing that the fire was not caused by accident, the indictment alleges.

Quon has denied setting the fire and trying to kill herself.

During the course of the investigation, Las Vegas police learned that Quon had hidden away roughly $5.6 million in offshore accounts. She paid publicist Mark Fierro more than $100,000 from those accounts to influence media coverage of her criminal cases, prosecutors alleged.

Lately, Quon has been locked in a battle with State Farm over its failure to pay her $250,000 to $300,000 for damage to the contents of the home.

Quon had obtained a preliminary injunction to prohibit State Farm from questioning her further under oath about the fire. She contended the questioning could force her to assert her Fifth Amendment rights to avoid incriminating herself in the police investigation of the fire.

A district judge, however, recently ruled that the insurance company had a right to ask Quon more questions.

Quon is facing other civil legal action.

SMS Financial, an Arizona debt collector, is suing her in District Court to recover several million dollars worth of defaulted loans her law practice took out to pay the cost of pursuing construction defect litigation.

Her law office landlord, Sahara Plazas, has filed a lawsuit against her and has said she owes rent.

Quon has not been charged in the federal homeowners association investigation, but prosecutors have been working out plea deals with defendants aimed at getting their cooperation against higher-level players in the massive scheme to profit from the takeover of associations.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that the co-conspirators stacked homeowners association boards with members who pushed for construction defect lawsuits against builders. The boards then steered legal and construction repair work to the co-conspirators.
M. Kutuzov
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#13755
Re: Verifying proxies 2012/02/14 18:18  
There is nothing to stop the board from creating proxies for the absentee owners.

They are one easy source without question.

Accepting and dealing with amendments to the busines at hand are another proxy problem. Boards bend that rule to suit their plans, to slide through flawed standard unit by-laws and insurance deductible hikes.

The got them in the US only because the mailed false documents using the federal mail.
Richard Forster
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#13763
Mickey ()
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Re: Criminals on the Condo Boards—Multi-million dollar Fraud (Part 14) 2012/02/15 04:26  
More convictions

Retired Metro Police Lieutenant Chris Van Cleef, who sat on the board of one of the HOA’s (condos) in the probe, died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound after his name surfaced in the investigation in 2008.

Over the past three months, nine more guilty pleas have followed. So far, the ranks of the admitted conspirators have included Deborah Genato of Platinum Community Services, which worked as property manager for the Vistana; Daniel Solomon, a straw purchaser who served on the Vistana board; and David Amesbury, Kim and Benzer’s former partner in the Courthouse Café.

On the morning of Nov. 16, a few weeks after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors, the lawyer and partner in the Courthouse Café, David Amesbury was found on the streets of a Las Vegas suburb severely beaten with multiple injuries, including two broken kneecaps.

Oh dear. It looks like his friends do not play nice when things don’t go their way.

Amesbury, 57, was the first lawyer to enter a felony plea in the far-reaching federal investigation, which has targeted lawyers, judges and former police officers.

All 10 defendants who have pleaded guilty, including Amesbury, have struck deals to cooperate with federal prosecutors looking to charge higher-level players in the massive scheme to profit from the takeover of homeowners boards of directors. As many as 15 more defendants are preparing to enter guilty pleas requiring their cooperation.

It looks like the "officers of the court" have not been doing so good in Las Vegas lately.
M. Kutuzov
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#13767
Pyxis ()
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Re: Verifying proxies 2012/02/15 10:42  
Mickey,

As usual your answer was very enlightening
and educational.

I thank you very much.
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#13768
Membership Has Its Rewards! 2012/02/15 10:55  
The directors that were not sure of what they can get away with will certainly learn how to pull off majority wins for sure.

You can see why clear and simple proxy rules, and verification by a source not steering the vote, is not welcome as a change in condoland.

CAFCOR is a great training ground.
Richard Forster
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#13770
The Nevada proxy & defect litigation frauds . . 2012/02/15 11:27  
have been great reading. We might not have heard about it except for the US housing/mortgage collapse, change of Federal administration, those owners who fought for due process like Ms Murray, and Mickey & Alfonso.

There must have tons of Cassandra warnings long before the Nevada indictments. Like Madoff etc, too bad that they often go in a listener's one ear and out the other until far along the process. Those listeners had to include thousands of condo owners and many Nevada state officials.
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#13773
Mickey ()
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Re:The Nevada proxy & defect litigation frauds . . 2012/02/15 13:06  
NDP forgery scandal ends with guilty plea
QMI Agency
First posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A man who forged NDP membership forms during the 2009 leadership race in Saskwatchewan has pleaded guilty to attempting to utter forged documents.

Ernest Morin, who was then a volunteer campaigner for leadership contender Dwain Lingenfelter, signed up 1,100 members of the Flying Dust and Waterhen Lake First Nations without their knowledge or consent.

While NDP rules allow a person to buy a membership for someone else, that person still has to sign the document. In this case, Morin signed the memberships he bought.


A Crown prosecutor sentenced Morin on Tuesday to a $3,000 fine.


Cheating in elections is as Canadian as fighting during hockey games. The cheating in politics slide down into trade unions and condos. If the owners and candidates do not know the rules, the elections can be easily rigged.

However Canadians believe in fair elections so if a board or a candidate gets caught cheating once, they are discredited forever.
M. Kutuzov
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#13777
Re:The Nevada proxy & defect litigation frauds . . 2012/02/15 14:03  
That's why the federal Liberal candidate in Brampton is a drop-in. Nobody can trust the number of votes and memberships that appear at the last minute.

Even dead liberals can vote for the local leader...

Funny how the same players just switch parties and do it again too!
Richard Forster
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#13787
Mickey ()
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Re: Criminals on the Condo Boards—Multi-million dollar Fraud (Part 15) 2012/02/15 23:25  
The lawsuits continue

On a recent Thursday evening at the clubhouse, the Vistana board members met with their lawyer, Richard Haskin, to discuss the the community’s civil suit alleging that the straw buyers, in cahoots with Benzer, vastly overpaid for Silver Lining’s services.

Haskin is working on an amended civil RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) complaint that will add Quon as a defendant and seek upwards of $8 million in damages.

“I was privy to the repairs,” says Vistana resident Tony Kneip, himself a retired general contractor. “They were outrageously high.”

Lawyers for Silver Lining Construction continue to allege the homeowner association owes Benzer’s company $750,000. “It’s a classic breach-of-contract, failure-to-pay case,” says Benzer’s attorney, Sigal Chattah.

Whether the Vistana can retrieve any money remains to be seen. The criminal fire investigation revealed that although her law firm has shut down, Quon still possesses significant assets.

During a court hearing in August, prosecutors told the judge that in 2009, Quon made transfers of $2.7 million and $2.9 million into an offshore bank account. Last year she bought her daughter an apartment in New York City, paying $750,000 in cash.

“The bottom line for the homeowners is we’d like to see a lot of pain and suffering on their end,” says board member Larry Fitch.

What about Leon Benzer, the centre of this gang?


Over the years a lot seemed to go right for Benzer. He formed a charity called the Benzer Autism Foundation; a music production company, Benzermusic.com; an investment group, Silver Lining Investment; and a boutique liquor brand, Benzila Tequila, that was reportedly made from agave plants that grew on Benzer’s ranch in Mexico.

Although he has not been charged with any crime, Benzer’s businesses are now all shuttered. “Basically, between the economy and the federal investigation, there’s not much left,” says Chattah, his attorney.

Leon Benzer, who is in his mid-40s, continues to live in Las Vegas, she says, and has a source of income. When asked about the rumor that Benzer now works as a local cab driver, Chattah responds, “He might be.”

In 2008, before the FBI raided his offices, Benzer created a channel on YouTube where he posted clips of celebrities giving red carpet shout-outs to Benzila Tequila and his foundation. You can still watch the likes of Tom Jones, Anthony Michael Hall, and Patrick Swayze tossing out paeans of support for Benzer and his charity work. “It’s God’s plan,” says ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith in one video. “If you want to make it to heaven one day, this is a good way to start.”

M. Kutuzov
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#13796
Mickey ()
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Re: Criminals on the Condo Boards—Multi-million dollar Fraud (Part 16) 2012/02/16 17:02  
What happened to the homeowners—the victims?

In the meantime, thousands of people who bought condos during the boom are still coping with their own financial hardship.

Two-bedroom, two-bath condos at the Vistana were going for $200,000 in 2007. In November 2011 a 929-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bath unit sold for $59,000.

Murray and her husband moved out of the Vistana in 2008 and now live in a nearby development. “I couldn’t take the pressure anymore,” says Murray. “Everything we did, they came after us. I’d had enough.”

As written earlier: According to Murray, residents who asked the board too many pointed questions risked getting hit with fines on trumped-up charges of violating association rules.

Eventually, she and her husband let their dream home slip into foreclosure. “The reputation was out there, and nobody wanted to live there,” says Murray. “So we let it go. … I took a big hit.”

These days, Murray stays as far away from condominiums as possible. She is, however, looking forward to seeing where the FBI’s investigation ultimately leads. Many mysteries remain.

I admire Wanda Murray and her three friends. Working all alone, and starting from scratch, they managed to get a lot of powerful people convicted of criminal charges. These four old ladies proves that it can be done.


source: Bloomberg Businessweek
M. Kutuzov
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#14107
James ()
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Re: Criminals on the Condo Boards—The crooks came back (Part 17) 2012/03/08 17:36  
Here is an article I spotted on this Las Vegas scam.

Out-of-state buyers are ripe for the pickings yet they continue to go to Florida and the southwest to buy condos.

More Trouble in HOA Probe
Las Vegas News Now
Feb 19, 2009

With a taskforce of FBI Agents and Metro Detectives investigating an alleged scam that may have raked in hundreds of millions of dollars, you might think the chief suspects would lay low or get out of town. That is not the case regarding one very large homeowner association which, in just the past few weeks, saw the same suspects return for another bite of the apple.

Wanda Murray is amazed at the brazen return of the same outfit that has already taken millions of dollars out of the Vistana condo complex. In late December, she says the property manager informed her that $450,000 had disappeared from the homeowner association's bank account -- the last of an $8 million fund set aside to repair construction defects.

"They just went and did it," she said.

To understand who "they" are, think back to late September when a task force of FBI Agents and Metro Detectives fanned out across the valley to serve search warrants at several locations.

At the center of the probe is Silver Lining Construction, owned by Leon Benzer. His office was searched along with that of his close associate, attorney Nancy Quon. The offices of a homeowner association management company called Platinum were also searched.

Lawmen believe that Benzer and others initiated the takeover of homeowner association boards all over town, possibly through rigged elections. The Benzer-dominated boards then voted to file construction defects lawsuits, which often were handed to lawyer Quon who succeeded in landing huge settlements. The lucrative repair work then was given to Benzer's company.

In the case of Vistana, Murray and others say all five members of the board were tied to Benzer.

The property had numerous defects -- electrical problems, mold -- serious stuff. Quon won a $19 million settlement, but $11 million of that went to the lawyers. $8 million was left over to fix Vistana. That money is now gone yet the problems remain.

"Where did the money go? Right straight to Leon Benzer's attorneys account," said Murray. "He hasn't done one iota of what was supposed to be done. He did patchwork. He did band aids on stuff."

Vistana homeowners say Benzer's crews performed some work, mostly cosmetic, worth at most $500,000. But the problems that really needed fixing are still there.

Silver Lining was to remove 200 palm trees that were growing right into the buildings. The trees are still there. Walkways were not level, pouring water into homes. Benzer's solution was to cover them with a pink coating, material that has already cracked and peeled into an even bigger mess.

Everywhere you look in Vistana, there are problems that haven't been fixed, but in December, after the investigation was well known, Benzer's attorney filed a legal action to claim the remaining $750,000 in the Vistana defect account saying it was owed to Benzer for the work he did.

The homeowners had no intention of paying, but then were told two board members, men suspected of working for Benzer, had gone behind everyone's back and snagged the money.

"They went to the bank and handwrote a countercheck -- wrote in our name and account number and Wachovia cashed it," said Murray.

Why did Wachovia cash a check from two HOA board members who did not have the authority to write it and have not attended a board meeting since news of the FBI probe broke? The bank declined to speak with the I-Team.

The new attorney for Vistana's HOA says he had an agreement with the bank that this could not happen, but somehow it did. He intends to sue.

Wanda Murray and the other homeowners think there's a reason the suspects would pull something like this, "They don't believe they are going to be caught."

Homeowners say state law makes it almost impossible to remove the two board members who pulled this off, "You need to have 35-percent of the homeowners fill out that ballot to recall a board, but we can't get that many homeowners. They're out of state. They're investors who never see the paperwork anyway."

About 65-percent of the Vistana condos are owned by nonresidents. The only time the HOA has ever seen more than 35-percent of residents vote on anything is when the suspicious board members were elected, but they suspect those elections were rigged through ballot stuffing.
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