Suitcases belonging to highroller guests staying on the 19th floor of the Rio's Ipanema tower had to be schlepped to other rooms before 10:15 a.m. today, the deadline set by county building officials to shut down all rooms on that floor and one other.
The hotel swiftly complied with the order, relocating all affected guests by Friday afternoon, Harrah's executive Jan Jones said Friday evening.
"Occupancy of floors 18 and 19 is revoked," reads a notice of violation about the Ipanema tower sent Friday to Harrah's Entertainment, which owns the Rio and seven resorts on the Strip.
The notice gave the hotel 24 hours to vacate those 140 rooms. The rooms can be reoccupied after building plans are approved and the work passes inspections, according to the notice.
The 19th floor boasts enlarged suites; the lower floor has standard suites. But they are linked by holes in the concrete slab between the two floors.
Earlier this week, a county official said inspectors had found some holes, which hold pipes or wiring, lacked the sealing that would keep smoke from migrating between floors during a fire.
The county is in its second week of investigating allegations that Harrah's remodeled 17 of the tower's 21 stories without proper permits or safety inspections. Evidence suggests the remodeling took place from late 2004 through early 2006, several floors at a time.
The county received a complaint about the possibility of illegal remodeling at the Rio in August 2006, after the work was complete, but did not do an inspection until six months later. A cursory county inspection in February ended with a report that:
• Declared the work inspected was original and not remodeled.
• Exonerated Harrah's.
• Closed the case file.
Earlier this week, the county issued a statement saying it was reopening the investigation on the strength of research presented to it by the Review-Journal, which had conducted its own two-month examination of allegations by Fred Frazzetta, a worker who had filed the Rio complaint. The newspaper studied Rio building plans on file with the county, interviewed five other men who had worked on the Ipanema tower, and rented two hotel rooms for a construction consultant to assess.
A second violation notice issued Friday orders Harrah's to have an engineer evaluate the structural integrity of Ipanema floors on which holes had been drilled through concrete slab without any county review. A contractor hired by Harrah's has been opening the walls and floors of guest rooms to further the county investigation, with county personnel present.
Those staffers have not observed any severed post-tension cables related to core drilling, said Stacey Welling, a public information officer for the county. If such drilling severed any post-tension cables, structural integrity could be affected. One worker has claimed he was present when two cables were severed.
All eight notices of violation issued to date on the Rio remodel are signed by inspector Rick Maddox, the same supervising building inspector who carried out the February inspection. Maddox is working on the current Rio investigation because the hotel is in his assigned geographic area, Welling said, but "with oversight" by upper management.
Frazzetta, an electrician, told the newspaper that Maddox never contacted him to obtain information about his Rio allegations in the six months after he filed the complaint. Maddox confirmed in a September interview that he never phoned Frazzetta but said he obtained information during the electrician's regular phone calls to check on the status of his complaint.
"His story was always changing," Maddox told the newspaper. He also said 30 days is the normal turnaround time for a complaint, but it was difficult to locate the Rio's original building plans.
On Friday, the county also disclosed that it plans to hire an outside party to review the process by which Development Services, which includes the building division, handles complaints.
Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid called for "an independent evaluation of Building Division procedures," a Friday statement reads. Welling said the county's Audit Department will select a firm and draw up a contract for commissioners to approve, probably at their Nov. 6 meeting.
Jefferson Wells, a national audit firm with a local office, is under consideration. "They specialize in construction and can look at it from start to finish, how the complaint was handled," Welling said.
Asked how to determine willful misconduct in ill remodeling, Clark County District Attorney David Roger answered, "I can't comment on hypotheticals. But the procedure is for an agency to conduct an investigation and then submit their findings to us for review."
Given the manpower level in his office, Roger said, it is rare for his staff to initiate investigations. He declined to comment on whether Development Services, a Clark County department, would be the appropriate agency to investigate potential wrongdoing in the Rio remodeling.
Contact reporter Joan Whitely at email@example.com or (702) 383-0268.