Officials agree to delay charges


Prosecutors have decided to push Harrah's Entertainment first for hotel safety and decide second how to prosecute misdemeanors connected with botched remodeling at several of its local properties.

District Attorney David Roger said Tuesday the hotel giant struck a deal to postpone arraignments of two hotel supervisors in exchange for the company doing a comprehensive review of remodeling projects at all its local hotels since 2003.

"Before we talk about this (misdemeanor) case at all, we ought to make sure all of their hotels are safe for visitors," Roger said the prosecutors and the gaming giant decided.

Lawyer Richard Bryan, the former Nevada governor and former U.S. senator, represented Harrah's in the talks.

The arrangement postpones until May 30 an arraignment, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, of the men facing charges for problematic remodeling at the Rio and Harrah's Las Vegas hotels.

Hundreds of guest rooms were involved in the remodeling projects, which created safety hazards that did not come to light until late 2007.

A Harrah's executive earlier had characterized the comprehensive review of remodel jobs, now under way, as a voluntary effort.

Robert Bruna and David "Skip" Matthews are the two defendants. Matthews is facilities director at the Rio and faces five misdemeanor counts.

Bruna was head of engineering at Harrah's Las Vegas when the district attorney filed 12 misdemeanor counts against him in February. But Bruna was not head engineer when Harrah's did the remodeling in question, nor is he Harrah's chief engineer any longer. Bruna has been promoted to director of non-gaming compliance for all Harrah's properties in Las Vegas, said Marybel Batjer, a Harrah's Entertainment spokeswoman.

The review covers construction done before Harrah's owned all of the properties. Roger said the deal requires a review reaching back to 2003, but Harrah's had said earlier its review includes a 2001 project at the Paris Las Vegas.

Also related to the controversy on hotel safety in Las Vegas, the Nevada State Contractors Board recently closed one of four complaints that the county filed in October in connection with remodeling that took place at the Rio and Harrah's on the Strip without permits or inspections.

The board discarded the complaint against Ford Contracting, a construction company, for any role in renovating guest rooms in the North Carnival tower at Harrah's Las Vegas.

"We have determined there was no violation of the contractor's license law," Chris Denning, the board's deputy director of investigations, wrote on March 21 to Gregory Franklin, the county's assistant director of Development Services.

The contractor's board is bound by state law not to discuss complaints, such as the one naming Ford Contracting, that do not end in formal disciplinary action, Art Nadler, a board spokesman, said Tuesday.

He said the board rarely receives third-party complaints, such as the county's, in which the party who files is neither the property's owner nor the contractor on a disputed job.

Nadler could not comment on whether the board's investigators sought information about Ford's role from individuals other than people who are directly affiliated with Ford, Harrah's Entertainment, the Rio or Harrah's on the Strip.

In summer 2007, the Review-Journal located several men who worked on the remodeling who alleged they regularly saw and interacted on the job with personnel from Ford Contracting.

The board still has three other open hotel-related complaints filed by the county. Those complaints name Harrah's Entertainment in connection with remodeling at the Rio, Harrah's Las Vegas and a warehouse on West Twain Avenue.

To support its one-page complaints with the contractors board, the county submitted paperwork on typical building and safety code violations that county inspectors have found at the two hotels while investigating the covert remodeling, said Stacey Welling, a county spokeswoman.

Harrah's review of past hotel remodeling recently led fire department inspectors to shut down six high roller suites at the Paris for less than adequate fire sprinkler coverage.

Batjer said the company had asked inspectors to check steam-generating equipment for the suites' bathroom saunas, which appear to have been installed without permits during a 2001 remodeling. The suites earlier had received county approval for fire safety plans and passed fire inspections.

But in the course of the latest visit, inspectors realized that the suites had fewer sprinklers than required.

Part of the problem can be eliminated by removing bed canopies, Batjer said. The canopies are a style statement, but each was large enough to require another ceiling sprinkler.

The suites will "be put back into service once the permit to add additional sprinklers has been obtained and the remediation work done, inspected and approved," she said.

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

 

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