'Oh, did we cite you under the health regulations?'
By Vin Suprynowicz
It's a head-on clash between two ways of looking at the law -- between Las Vegas the bootstrap desert town with the can-do-attitude, and The New Vegas ... a suburban community where zoning is everywhere, and whatever you do, you'd better have your permits.
Dan Paripovich, who served with the Sixth Special Forces Group from 1966 to 1969, when the unit was known to raise a little dust in Southeast Asia, is not a delicate guy. He's a demolition contractor -- has been for decades. Back in 1997 he was retained to tear down the Harbor Freight building on Tropicana in Las Vegas.
After breaking up the concrete pad, Paripovich freely admits "I didn't want to pay the fees to haul the stuff all the way out to the Apex landfill," the county monopoly dump where he says he's encountered arbitrary and excessive charges with no avenue of appeal, "so I did it the way we've always done it in this town. I found a low-lying piece of property that needed clean fill, up at Oquendo and Mohawk" (south of Tropicana near Jones.) "I contacted the owners, an Hispanic couple down in San Diego, faxed them an agreement, and got them to sign that it was OK to dump clean fill."
The property owners -- the Ortiz Family Trust -- stipulated that Paripovich's dumping and grading was OK providing "No law (local, state or federal) ... is violated."
Paripovich dumped his broken-up concrete, grading the stuff out to extend the Ortiz property into the flood plain of a wash. A neighbor called to report "illegal dumping." The health department responded, also calling in County Code Enforcement Specialist Barry Lagan.
Paripovich insisted his dumping wasn't illegal -- he had the signed permission of the property owners.
He was cited anyway, under NRS 444.630.
Paripovich looked up that law, which bans the dumping of "garbage, swill, refuse, cans, bottles, paper, vegetable matter, carcass or any dead animal, offal from any slaughter pen or butcher shop, trash or rubbish."
"I called (County Health Department chief) Otto Ravenholt," Paripovich says, "and he had someone come out from the health department and look at the site, and I got a letter that there's no violation."
That April 28, 1998 letter is signed by Environmental Health Supervisor Victor Skaar.
At that point, according to Paripovich, "It got to be like a John Lovett routine from Saturday Night Live. They said, 'Oh, did we cite you under the health department regulations? We didn't mean that.
We meant you violated the FEMA floodplain regulations, by dumping in a wash.' "
So Paripovich got hold of the appropriate "technical drainage study" for the area, along with the August, 1995 FEMA flood insurance study, which according to both Paripovich and his attorney, Robert Kossack, actually encourages placement of erosion control material such as broken concrete "in the fringe of the 100-year floodway," which is what Paripovich says he did.
Anyway, the South Branch of the Tropicana Wash no longer carries major floodwaters, following the completion and May, 1998 ribbon-cutting (all the big county official were there) of the Tropicana Detention Basin, Paripovich insists.
Furthermore, Paripovich stands on the Ortiz site and point upstream, to where new homeowners have apparently filled in the wash completely and paved tennis courts across it. Further upstream, he shows a visitor where the county has recently issued certificates of occupancy to new homes whose backyard grading completely blocks and fills the old wash -- even a place where the county itself has apparently filled in the wash to extend existing roads.
County Code Enforcement Specialist Lagan responds: "You know, Vin, I hear that all the time, and what I say where I hear that is: 'Right now as we're speaking someone is probably out robbing a bank, but that doesn't make it legal."
But can't other apparent violations -- if, in fact, it is a violation to even partially fill this wash -- be seen directly from the Ortiz property?
"It's not my job to go walking up and down the washes looking for violations. We respond to complaints, and this matter was brought to our attention by the health department."
But didn't the health department later state in writing there was no violation?
"The health department did drop out of the matter because they concluded it was not organic waste, so we said 'OK, we'll take it from here under (Clark County Codes) 2204-660 and 2204-690,' " Lagan agrees.
"So I went back in and proved to them it wasn't a flood control problem," to pick up defendant Paripovich's version of the story, "and they said, 'Oh did we say you violated the flood control regulations? We didn't mean that. We meant your violation was stockpiling fill and grading without a county permit.' "
Paripovich contends even the cited county statutes are nothing but guidelines for grading -- not penalty statutes. One of his attorneys tried to raise in court this April his contention that the entire relevant chapter 2204 was deleted by the County Commission in January of 1998, though Lagan testified that was not true, and Judge Denton cut off further testimony on that question.
"If the law is being objectively administered, the Ortiz land should be liened to make them clear away the piles of asphalt on the other side of the wash, which is apparently also on their property," says attorney Kossack, an expert on defending against such county prosecutions.
"But if this is directed solely against my client, then things really become shady. If it can be shown he's being singled out for prosecution, then indeed my client may have a case. ... The real fact of the matter is that they've tried to get Dan three different ways. They tried the health code and that didn't work; they raised the flood control issue but he was never cited for that; all they've been able to get him on is grading without a permit."
And county regulations allow for such permits to be issued even after the grading is "completed."
Although Mr. Lagan was called as an Ortiz family witness as Dan Paripovich was called back before Mark Denton's District Court Wednesday -- and although Deputy District Attorney Steven Sweikert dutifully attends each court session as "an observer" -- Lagan says the county is only "on the sidelines" of the case at this point.
How was that accomplished? The county simply contacted the Ortiz family and threatened to pick up and haul away the concrete fill, and then bill the landowner for this "service" -- to the tune of $50,000.
The Ortiz Family Trust thereupon brought a civil action against Paripovich and his one-man firm, Las Vegas Demolition, for $50,000 in damages should the concrete not be hauled away.
Las Vegas Demolition was to be represented on that matter by attorney Michael Weisman. But Mr. Weisman became so ill he missed two court appearances and eventually had to surrender his law license.
So Judge Kathy Hardcastle granted the plaintiffs a default judgment against Paripovich. Paripovich says this happened after Mr. Lagan journeyed down to meet with Judge Hardcastle to tell her "what an awful guy I am." Mr. Lagan says he cannot recall any such conversation. Judge Hardcastle was out of town at a conference last week and could not be reached.
The matter is now in the court of Judge Mark Denton, who displays some impatience over the three-year-old matter. The judge keeps ordering Mr.
Paripovich to get the appropriate permits and haul the concrete away, and insists he has no intention of "re-hearing the issues of fact."
"He keeps saying 're-hear,' objects Paripovich. 'When did he ever hear them in the first place? When will the issues of fact be heard? This is supposed to be my day in court."
"Finally worn down and seeking to comply with this Honorable Court's Order," Paripovich writes in an affidavit dated Monday, June 5, "I went to the Clark County Building Department on April 10, 2000, seeking a permit to remove the fill from the Ortiz property."
But Paripovich reports that when he tried to fill out an application for a permit to remove the concrete as ordered, clerk Debbie Hammond called the County Response Office, had a telephone discussion of several minutes duration with someone there, wrote "Barry" on the top of the application form, and then turned back to Mr. Paripovich and told him "that because a permit was never secured prior to the placement of the fill, a permit would not be issued for the removal of the fill."
Under oath in court Wednesday, Lagan denied he had ever issued such instructions to the clerk, or that he was even in the building when Ms.
Hammond's call came in.
"So what's going on here, Barry?" I asked Lagan. "Is this just a case of a guy who remembers the way things used to be done in this town, and refuses to realize things have changed?"
"Vin, you've hit the nail on the head," Lagan said. "Everything this gentleman does is backwards and without permits, but he has a vendetta against this office because we're the ones that catch him and enforce it." Lagan also refers to the fact Paripovich used to receive county contracts, but has been removed from the contractors' list.
Other contractors apply for all the appropriate "dust permits and permits for hauling to the landfill, and then a person like Dan P. will undercut them (on price) because he doesn't do the stuff he's supposed to do; he dumps in the desert, literally," Lagan says.
Paripovich agrees he's had a falling out with the county, but contends that's because he was once ordered to tear down a building which he believed contained asbestos tile.
Instead of obtaining an asbestos inspection as he demanded, the county fired Paripovich on the spot and brought in an unlicensed contractor to tear down the building, Paripovich contends.
"Instead of spending the time correcting the problem he spends all this time making false accusations," Lagan responds. "He has right from the beginning accused everyone of doing him an injustice when the record speaks for itself; he just doesn't go by the book."
"Let me ask you this, Vin:" said Lagan, returning to his office Monday after spending a few days recently staking out likely desert sites in his department's Fifth Annual Catch-a-Dumper Day, "Why is Dan P. the only one who can't accomplish what he wants to do; why is he the only person who has a problem with the county that's preventing him from making this correct? ... It's that simple and that easy; he just doesn't want to comply. It's not like the county hasn't tried to help him comply. He's just got a bug across his ass because we don't use him anymore."
"Nothing I've done is illegal," Paripovich responds. "They threaten to throw me in jail for contempt; they're ordering me to spend $20,000 hauling this stuff away when it's good clean fill, it improved the value of the land. And they still can't show me where I broke the law."
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at 1-800-244-2224.
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