When homeowners at the upscale Park Avenue Condo Complex realized earlier this year their association board had been hijacked by outsiders through rigged elections, they took their evidence to the state's HOA Ombudsman, hoping to get some satisfaction.
"The ombudsman is totally inept. You get no support there. They don't even come to the property," said former Park Avenue HOA president Lee Lahargoue.
Park Avenue is now smack in the middle of a massive law enforcement investigation involving the corruption of HOA boards all over the valley. The suspicion is that crooked board members worked with lawyers and contractors to fleece homeowners out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Long before the I-Team revealed the existence of the criminal investigation, other victimized homeowners took their suspicions to the state ombudsman. They got the same results as Park Avenue.
"They sent us a letter and said everything was okay," said Lahargoue.
The office of the ombudsman is small. So is its staff. Cramped offices are packed with bulging files of homeowner complaints. This office is the point of contact for any of the million or more Nevadans who are governed by more than 3,000 HOA boards.
But it was never meant to be an all powerful ruler of the HOA world.
"My function as the ombudsman is primarily to assist people in disputes in their association. That's what I do -- and an education function as well," said Lindsay Waite.
"We are a regulatory body. We are not peace officers. We don't have that power," said Ombudsman Education Officer Nick Haley.
But the office does have authority to help mediate disagreements related to the governing documents adopted by individual HOA's -- fights between homeowners and their boards.
Try asking about more serious matters and you run into a block wall.
"Have you been contacted by the FBI or Metro regarding the investigation?" asked Knapp.
"I would have to say that anything of that nature would be confidential," said Waite.
"Which statute says you can't tell me if the FBI has contacted you?" asked Knapp.
"I don't have that reference
In an interview, the I-Team found quite a few subjects the ombudsman can't talk about, such as any of its investigations, "Confidentiality statutes in 116 prevent us from talking about any intervention affidavit or investigation."
The confidentiality statute is meant to protect homeowners, but it also protects the ombudsman since citizens and the media can't ask questions about what the office does.
"It protects you. You don't have to say what you are doing," said Knapp
"It's for individuals," said Waite.
"It works both ways," said Knapp.
"But it protects individuals," said Waite.
The only thing Waite will say about a possible criminal investigation is that matters related to violations of the law are forwarded to the office's investigators, then on to the state's HOA Commission.
That commission is notoriously slow to act and handled only six cases in its first three years of existence.
Waite's operation has heard more than 600 face to face disputes and resolved about half of them. It also gets 1,000 calls per month and dozens of walk ins.
Waite mediates and her office uses videos and printed material to educate new HOA board members about how to govern.
As for rigged elections of HOA boards, other than what they've seen on the news, it's a subject that doesn't ring a bell.
"I've been here two years and don't recall that as an issue," said Waite.
"So the answer would be no, there's been nothing you have resolved regarding election fraud?" asked Knapp.
"No," said Waite.
No other state has an office like Nevada's HOA Ombudsman, which has assisted thousands of homeowners over the past few years. However, it's up to the state's HOA Commission to handle more serious matters.
The I-Team found the commission has picked up the pace in the last year, but still processes a small trickle of cases, each of which takes about two years to be processed.
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