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Whistle-blower a villain, says business owner

The whistle-blower is not a hero but a villain, according to a plumbing business owner who is on trial for jeopardizing the fire protection of a large condominium building near the Strip.

Harry Sullard, the owner of HK Plumbing, testified in Las Vegas Justice Court Wednesday that his ex-employee, Mario Salinas, took it upon himself to do a shoddy repair to an underground fire line — and then to bury the compromised pipe as a completed job, so no one could check the work. During a fire, such a line feeds firefighters’ hoses and ceiling sprinklers.

Salinas is one of two men who alerted government agencies to the hazard created by the substandard fix at the job site at the Meridian, an upscale but financially troubled condominium complex on East Flamingo Road. The Clark County Fire Department and state contractors’ board reopened the men’s complaints — and documented the fire hazard — after the Review-Journal reported in late spring 2008 on the agencies’ lackluster initial responses.

Salinas, also a plumber, testified Wednesday that he participated in the job only as Sullard’s assistant, and had warned his boss that his solution was improper. But when Sullard took the witness stand, he said he left town while the first repair was still going on, before his workers had determined that a huge temporary pond in a lawn at the Meridian was created by a leaking fire line, not just a line that provides drinking water.

Shortly after the Meridian job, which took place in autumn 2007, Sullard fired Salinas and Eric Edwards, another HK employee at the time.

Sullard told the judge he used to trust Salinas, but now believes the man has “a vendetta” to destroy HK Plumbing. The business owner was the last witness in Wednesday’s bench trial, which took more than four hours, but is not yet concluded. Judge Tony Abattangelo ordered the lawyers to return on Nov. 13 for closing arguments.

On Thursday, when Salinas learned how Sullard had testified, Salinas said, “Oh my god. … His name of the game is to put the blame on me for everything, like I own the company.” Salinas told the Review-Journal that Sullard stayed till the end of the repair, and Sullard ordered the backhoe to fill in the hole.

Three witnesses from the fire department testified Wednesday that HK Plumbing’s work at the Meridian was substandard, but none pinpointed which person was responsible for the work.

Sullard faces five misdemeanor charges for breaking safety codes and working outside the scope of his contractor’s license. Sullard does not hold the specialized credential that allows a plumber to work on vital fire lines.

Abbatangelo said he needed time to “look at the big picture,” including the facts that Sullard eventually paid for a properly licensed plumber to correct the bad work on a fire line, and that Sullard has been a local plumber for more than 30 years.

The Meridian homeowners association has sued Sullard for damages; Sullard has sued both Edwards and Salinas.

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

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