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Joan Whitely

Official departs county position

12 February 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Friday was the last day on the job for county employee Rick Maddox, whose rubber-stamp approval of questionable remodeling of the Rio ignited a safety controversy that resulted in criminal charges.

The brevity of Maddox's visit to the Rio a year ago, just before he cleared it of improper remodeling, can be established by satellite tracking of his county vehicle, the Review-Journal learned Friday, the same day that Maddox "separated" from the county.

The county confirmed his departure but will not say whether he resigned or was fired.

"The time that I was given was 18 minutes" for Maddox's stop at the Rio, said whistleblower Fred Frazzetta, who declined to name the source for his information. Frazzetta is an electrician who worked on the remodeling project and filed the complaint that triggered the inspector's trip to the Rio in February 2007.

County spokesman Erik Pappa declined to specify the length of Maddox's final visit to the hotel before he signed off on the work done there, but Pappa confirmed that the time span can be measured.

"We understand there are GPS records tracking the movement of this employee," Pappa said Friday afternoon, when asked about the existence of such records. GPS stands for global positioning system and refers to a technology that computes locations by satellite signals.

"That's not something I can discuss," Pappa said in response to questions about what the GPS logs for Maddox's vehicle show, including how many trips he made to the hotel before he closed Frazzetta's complaint. The county will not release Maddox's GPS records until the district attorney's criminal investigation of remodeling by Harrah's Entertainment is complete, he added.

"If managers have reasons to suspect there is some inappropriate use (of county vehicles), then they can download the data," Pappa said.

Trucks and cars used by inspectors and supervisors in the county's development services department are equipped with GPS devices, Pappa said. About eight years ago, development services began outfitting its fleet of about 225 vehicles for satellite tracking.

Every 15 minutes, a vehicle's information is transferred to a Web-based server. "We also get information on the vehicles if they stop for more than one minute," Pappa said.

Maddox did not return phone calls placed Friday to his office and county cell phone to obtain comment. At Monday midday, his voice message was still playing when those lines were dialed.

Maddox is the county employee who lagged at researching a complaint about construction defects affecting safety at the Rio, from a project done mainly in 2005.

Six months after the complaint arrived in August 2006, Maddox did a cursory hotel inspection, then closed the complaint with a four-paragraph report dated Feb. 16, 2007. In it, he said he inspected 37 guest rooms but found evidence that the Rio did cosmetic remodeling only.

The county reopened the complaint investigation in fall 2007, when the newspaper published research indicating more significant remodeling had taken place.

The Review-Journal also interviewed former workers on the remodeling project, who said that some of the work -- since hidden by wall coverings, carpeting or lowered ceilings -- was flawed.

Maddox was, at first, part of the county team evaluating the Rio after Frazzetta's complaint was reopened, but officials reassigned him "to ensure the impartiality of the investigation," county spokeswoman Stacy Welling said. He had joined the county as a building inspector in 1995, then rose in 2003 to the position of supervising inspector.

Investigation by county inspectors has revealed multiple problems with the Rio work, including repeated failure to seal holes to prevent the spread of smoke during a fire; drilling damage to bars and tensioned cables that are imbedded in concrete to strengthen high-rise floors and ceilings; and substandard wiring in certain locations.

Recently, the district attorney took a step closer to prosecuting parties responsible for flaws in the hotel remodeling. On April 1, David Matthews, the current facilities director of the Flamingo Road hotel, will be arraigned on misdemeanor charges of failure to obtain permits or inspections at that resort.

April 1 is also the arraignment date on misdemeanor charges for Robert Bruna, current chief engineer at Harrah's Las Vegas, a sister property on the Strip. It, too, underwent problematic remodeling that bypassed county permit and inspection procedures. Both hotels are part of Harrah's Entertainment.