By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Don Ahern, a Clark County businessman with holdings in a hotel, real estate and construction, has already been hit with more than $14,000 in state and local government fines, which he says has its roots in his support of President Donald Trump and two Trump events he had at his properties.
“It just seems to me that until we had the Trump program, all was well,” Ahern said on Nevada Newsmakers. “Then, all of a sudden now, the rules have changed.”
Don Ahern was fined almost $11,000 by Nevada’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for an “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign event and the Mrs. Nevada America pageant days later at the Ahern Hotel and Convention Center in Las Vegas.
Then, a few weeks ago, he was fined another $3,000 by the city of Henderson after another Trump rally at his Xtreme Manufacturing warehouse in that city.
In both instances, he had run afoul of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s pandemic control mandate that called for no more than 50 people at public gatherings.
Ahern, however, told host Sam Shad that more fines could be coming. Nevada’s OSHA has yet to weigh in on the Trump rally in his Henderson facility, Ahern said.
An estimated 5,000 people attended the event. OSHA agents were at the event, yet Ahern is not expecting them to hand down any decision quickly.
“When they make a visit, it usually is a few weeks before you understand what action they are going to take,” Ahern said. “So as of right now, there has been no action from OSHA and they just came in very politely, very respectfully, asked about the whole event. We did provide the venue but we did not we did not create the event. President Trump campaign has dozens, if not hundreds of people to create those events and to fill the venue up.”
He said his troubles started when he hosted the Evangelical event for the President at his hotel. He feels he’s being harassed and points to his overt support for Trump as the reason.
“So that is completely unfair,” he said of the fines for the pageant and evangelical event. “So they threatened us but we felt like we were in total compliance and we have been for months before that as well.
“And they never said anything to us until the name Trump came up,” Ahern said.
Ahern was working under the state directive that casinos and convention centers must limit events to 50 percent of capacity. Ahern, who cleaned out the casino and turned it into convention space when he bought the former Lucky Dragon hotel in Las Vegas, said his convention center could accommodate about 1,800 people. He said there were less than 900 people at the Evangelical event so he felt safe. The Trump campaign said the event drew about 550 people, according to reports.
“Absolutely. Totally. It was political,” Ahern said. “They didn’t care when we had weddings or birthdays or anything else. We’re in conventions. And they sure were fine when the (Las Vegas) mayor came over and by the way, I love the mayor, just so you know. The mayor is not our problem.”
Yet officials contend the events were under Gov. Sisolak’s directive that prohibits public or private gatherings of more than 50 people.
“Now they are saying it was 50 (people) or below,” Ahern said. ” But prior to that, it was just fine because before that we had events here that even the mayor (attended).”
Ahern repeated the criticism of many conservative Nevadans that the governor’s pandemic policy lacks consistency. Ahern also filed suit against the state about his nearly $11,000 fine.
“It (Sisolak’s directive) is completely inconsistent that this is why we pulled together our financials and we hired a lawyer and we filed a lawsuit against this city and the state,” Ahearn said.
Ahern sarcastically said he could get around the 50-person limit if he brought gaming back to his convention area, which would redefine the area as a casino and allow 50 percent of capacity.
“Apparently their thinking is if you have a space and put a gaming table in the middle of it, it is OK,” he said. “If you dont have a gaming table, it is not.”
State government squeezed local officials for action against Ahern, he said.
“I’m going to say that it was referenced by people within the city and the metropolitan police department that the pressures from the state were immense,” Ahern said.
Both his hotel and Xtreme Manufacturing building were thoroughly disinfected before the Trump events and pageant, Ahern said. Other than that, Ahern said the Trump campaign did most of the work, he said.
“We just provided the venue,” he said. “They (Trump campaign) ran the whole entire program and set it all up. But there were tremendous (anti-COVID) steps taken. We sprayed it all down. Everybody was given masks. We did everything, including COVID testing for many of the people that wanted it. And you know, it just went on and on.
“Every COVID concept we could think of was applied. Now, whether people complied or not, you can’t control that. That is an individual situation. But we tried, I say ‘we,’ but the Trump campaign tried everything they could to be totally, totally compliant with every law of this state.”