By Timothy Pratt
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Two people linked to a massive federal probe into homeowner association fraud in Las Vegas have been found dead within a week, and authorities described both deaths as apparent suicides.
Las Vegas attorney David Amesbury, who entered a plea deal in the case less than six months ago, was found hanging from a beam in a shed outside his brother's California home on Sunday, and authorities said there was no indication of foul play.
His death came five days after attorney Nancy Quon, who was a target of the ongoing probe, was found dead in her bathtub in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. Her death was also considered a suicide with no indication of foul play, Henderson Police spokesman Keith Paul said.
The case to which the pair are linked involves allegations that straw buyers obtained homes and condominiums during the Las Vegas Valley housing boom nearly a decade ago, used underhanded tactics to gain seats on homeowner association boards, and used the boards to funnel funds to certain attorneys and construction firms in massive repair contracts.
Nevada has been among the states hardest hit by the collapse of the housing boom, with large numbers of homeowners in the Las Vegas metro area defaulting on mortgages and housing prices in the city crumbling more than 60 percent since a peak in 2006.
Authorities said they suspect no foul play in the death of 57-year-old Amesbury, who had an earlier brush with death in November when he was found badly beaten and in his underwear inside a gated community in an attack that was never solved.
"He hung himself, we think," the Deputy Chief Coroner of Nevada County, California, Paul Schmidt, said of Amesbury's death. The coroner's report will not be available for about 10 weeks, Schmidt added.
Frank Cremen, a Las Vegas attorney who represented Amesbury in the case since 2009, said his client's immediate family did not believe he hung himself.
"They don't think it was suicide," Cremen said.
RECOVERY FROM BEATING
Amesbury, who in October pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in exchange for cooperation in the case, was one of 10 people who pleaded guilty. He was awaiting sentencing.
Cremen said that since his November beating, Amesbury "had to some extent recovered from his injuries, in the physical aspect, but not the mental or emotional aspect."
But authorities ran out of leads and Amesbury had no clear memory of the beating, so they closed the case in January, Henderson police said.
Cremen said his client had recently been approved for disability insurance and was at his brother's house in Grass Valley recuperating when he died.
Justice Department spokeswoman Alisa Finelli declined comment on the deaths or on whether they would affect the ongoing investigation.
The two deaths bring to four the number of people linked to the Justice Department probe who have died since 2008, the year Christopher Van Cleef, a former police officer connected to the case, shot himself.
Then in 2010, Robbie Castro, a former homeowner's association board member, died of a drug overdose.
(Editing By Cynthia Johnston and Greg McCune)
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