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Joan Whitely

Criminal citations set in Harrah's remodeling

17 December 2007

and Arnold Knightly

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- On Friday afternoon, when many Las Vegans were scurrying home for a carefree weekend, Clark County's building division delivered 17 criminal misdemeanor citations for problematic remodeling work at the Rio and Harrah's Las Vegas hotels.

"We received the notices in the middle to late afternoon. We're just now reviewing them, so I can't comment any further than that," spokeswoman Marybel Batjer said early Friday evening.

Batjer is a vice president of Harrah's Entertainment, the gaming company that owns the two hotels as well as a warehouse that received an 18th citation. That property, 3665 W. Twain Ave., housed Roman Empire Development, a remodeling subsidiary that Harrah's Entertainment shut down earlier in the week.

Reached after the end of the business day, county spokeswoman Stacey Welling said 13 citations involved Harrah's on the Strip and four involved the Rio. The two hotels in the past several years underwent remodeling projects that either took place without permits or inspections, or resulted in some substandard work.

Because most county personnel were already gone from the job, Welling said she could not obtain copies of the citations, which are public documents, but should be able to release them Monday.

Because of the late hour, Welling said, she could not get the names of parties identified in the citations. But they are individuals as opposed to business entities, she disclosed.

The county has said its fire department will also issue citations in connection with the remodeling projects.

Welling did not know when those citations will come out. "I know the departments were working with their respective district attorneys," she said.

UNLV professor William Thompson, who has written widely on the economic impacts of gaming, said Friday he is baffled by the turn of events involving Harrah's Entertainment, which has been reported to be the world's top gaming company in terms of revenue.

"The hard word is 'criminal,'" said Thompson. "It's hard because that means intent. That connotes a prosecutor thinks there was intent and Harrah's did it knowingly."

Thompson, a faculty member in the department of public administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, admitted he has no special knowledge of the events beyond what he has gleaned from the media. "My initial reaction was, they were sloppy. When you say criminal, it crosses a new line."

Fire investigator Terry Taylor, from Northern Nevada, said he believes the legal concept of "strict liability" applies to violations of the building code and other safety codes.

Under strict liability, intent does not matter, only actions, according to Taylor. His view of case law is that when regulatory laws -- such as those that govern traffic flow or building construction -- are violated, it's presumed that the responsible party knew what the law is.

He cited the hypothetical example of a movie theater owner who may not be present, or even know, when an employee wrongly chains a public exit door shut. That owner can still be held liable for the subordinate's actions in violating fire codes, according to Taylor, who has served at different times in his career as a deputy state fire marshal in Nevada and California. He has credentials to testify in state and federal courts in Nevada and California.

Criminal citations set in Harrah's remodeling is republished from