Complaint: Fire codes violated


Harrah's Entertainment must defend itself in a new criminal case alleging workers or contractors tampered with fire safety systems at three of its local hotels.

The complaint, filed Wednesday, contains six misdemeanor counts against Harrah's for improper building alterations at the Flamingo Las Vegas, Harrah's Las Vegas and the Rio.

It summons Harrah's, the world's largest gaming enterprise, to Justice Court on July 7. The district attorney's office sent the summons to former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, a lawyer at Lionel Sawyer & Collins, who has been representing the company in discussions related to remodeling done without permits or inspections at several Harrah's-owned hotels here.

The new complaint covers work done between June 2004 and early December 2007 that violated the county's fire code. A prior complaint, still pending, alleges two hotel supervisors had violated the building code.

"The safety of our guests is, and always has been, our top priority," said Harrah's spokeswoman Jan Jones in a written statement issued Thursday. The company had anticipated the filing, she said. "We have worked closely with Clark County officials to resolve and repair all of the issues that were brought to our attention, including those listed in (the new) filing."

Two of the new counts cover an autumn incident at the Flamingo, in which a carpenter, Chuck Gillenwater, was instructed to cannibalize parts from a fire door on the 23rd floor of the hotel and reinstall them in a fire door on the 26th floor, so the second door would pass a fire inspection. The switch left the 23rd floor less protected from fire. With the part missing, that door could not automatically close at the onset of heat, flames or smoke.

Gillenwater contacted the county fire department and the Review-Journal about the incident. He lost his job shortly after, the newspaper reported. "I'm a worker bee" who resisted orders to do questionable work, Gillenwater said in December. He had worked for Roman Empire Development, a remodeling subsidiary that Harrah's Entertainment shut down later that same month.

Three other new counts say Harrah's Las Vegas used Ford Contracting or Siemens Building Technologies to remove or change warning strobe lights and synchronization components.

Because the contractors pulled no permits, no inspector verified that the changes kept the fire safety system intact. These counts cover renovation of the fourth floor of the Mardi Gras guest room tower, and floors 19 through 29 of the Carnival tower.

At the Rio Hotel -- which was the subject of an investigation of illegal remodeling published by the Review-Journal in October -- Harrah's used the Penta Building Group or Diversified Protection Services to "remove fire alarm devices from ... walls and rewire the wires so no troubles would appear on the fire alarm panel located in the (hotel's) fire command" room, according to the document.

Penta is also the contractor that Harrah's selected to help investigate suspect remodeling at the Rio.

Siemens Building Technologies belongs to a corporate group that has a contract with the CityCenter construction project.

Neither the district attorney's office nor Bryan responded to telephone requests for comment.

The new complaint names the parent corporation as defendant, while an earlier one focused on individual employees.

Las Vegas attorney Mark Dzarnoski, who is not involved in the Harrah's matter, offers a general reason why a corporation might be named as a criminal defendant. "The corporation isn't going to be incarcerated or thrown in jail. But oftentimes, depending on the statute involved, there are significant fines and or penalties that a corporation could pay. And an individual (defendant) may not be in a financial position, necessarily, to pay them."

Contact reporter Joan Whitely at jwhitely@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0268.

 

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