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Remodeling controversy: County says charges coming

14 Dec 2007

By Joan Whitely

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Misdemeanor criminal charges are imminent for problematic remodeling done at the Rio, Harrah's Las Vegas and Flamingo Las Vegas hotels, according to a statement Thursday from the county manager's office.

"I don't have a date" for the issuing of citations, said county spokeswoman Stacey Welling on Thursday after the statement came out. But she said they are a certainty, and when issued, will become public documents.

County Manager Virginia Valentine was in meetings Thursday and did not respond to an interview request.

Harrah's executive Marybel Batjer said Thursday evening she was perplexed at the announcement. "My understanding is citations have not been written, so it's extremely difficult to speak to something that doesn't exist."

According to the statement, Valentine "directed Clark County's Fire Department and Building Division to issue citations to Harrah's Entertainment for unpermitted remodeling work that has occurred at its Las Vegas properties." The document also named a fourth location owned by Harrah's Entertainment that will be addressed in the citations: 3665 W. Twain Ave., which is a building occupied by Roman Empire Development, a Harrah's remodeling subsidiary that the corporation closed on Tuesday.

"We must hold Harrah's accountable for its failure to comply with building safety codes," Valentine said in the statement. "Our first priority is public safety, and the issues we have found at these properties amount to a serious violation of public trust."

The statement does not identify which individuals or specific entities will be named in citations, nor for which specific acts. But citations by fire and building departments will address applicable county codes.

District Attorney David Roger said Thursday afternoon he was unaware that the county was announcing its intent to issue citations. He said any citations would be for misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to six months imprisonment, $1,000 fine, or both.

"We may very well (meet with) inspectors to review evidence and determine appropriate charges" and which parties to cite, Roger said. "We're not involved in the case right now."

The county views the preparation of citations as the next step in the county's investigation of the remodeling, which began in September, Welling said.

"The first step of our investigation needed to focus on exposing the work that was done at these properties and getting it brought up to proper building and fire codes," the statement read.

Recent inspection records of the properties, created by fire and building officials since late September, have documented multiple but localized deficiencies including substandard wiring, sprinkler heads that were corroded or painted over, and unsealed holes in fire-rated walls or floors that are supposed to defend against the spread of smoke or fumes.

The county opened its present investigation after the Review-Journal in September presented research to county officials indicating that hotel management had passed off the extensive work at the Rio, which took place from about late 2004 to early 2006, as superficial remodeling that did not require permits.

Since then, certain remodeling projects at Harrah's Las Vegas and the Flamingo also have been investigated, with more deficiencies discovered.

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