North Las Vegas business accused of stealing $700K tax dollars
Photo: Video by ktnv.com
North Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Rebuilding radiators is a dirty business but the family who owns Motor Mission, the oldest business in North Las Vegas, says it's the city who is playing dirty. It's a high stakes case involving hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars. Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears has the exclusive story.
"It's a very scary situation. I mean we're a family-owned and operated business.We've been here since the 1940's at this building, in this location. We never intended or meant to defraud anybody," said Jimmy Ewing.
But that's exactly what Motor Mission Machine and Radiator is suspected of doing, defrauding taxpayers and the City of North Las Vegas out of $700,000.
"I'm shocked at what's going on," explained County Commissioner Tom Collins.
Collins is bewildered by the city's actions. He considers Motor Mission one of the core North Las Vegas businesses that's helped keep the city going.
"The Ewing's have been doing business with North Las Vegas for a long time. I'm sure they had a trust for the city. I hope the city will give that same trust back to them," said Collins.
Action News obtained surveillance video of North Las Vegas Police serving a search warrant in May at their shop on Lake Mead near Las Vegas Boulevard.
Police took computers, hard drives, and paper records looking for evidence of the crimes of obtaining money under false pretenses, forgery or theft. It all relates to the purchase and relocation agreement between the North Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency and Motor Mission.
"They don't want automotive-style businesses here anymore. So, they wanted to relocate us," said Jimmy.
The plan to beautify, gentrify, and otherwise upgrade North Las Vegas' downtown area has been in place for years. Motor Mission began working with the Redevelopment Agency in 2005. They decided to build a brand-new building, found a piece of land and worked to negotiate a reasonable price.
"Otherwise the city would come in under eminent domain and if they did, we wouldn't get anything," said Jimmy.
The North Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency bought the land Motor Mission sits on in June 2008 for $520,000 and leased it back to them so they could keep doing business while working to relocate. The city also authorized up to $700,000 more for relocation expenses.
"We weren't 100% comfortable with the amount because we were afraid we'd get into the situation we're in now and here we are," said Jimmy.
City records obtained by Contact 13 show the Redevelopment Agency's concerns about a funding gap of up to $400,000. Staff recommended additional financial assistance to relocate Motor Mission, which they call a long standing profitable business providing a vital service to the entire Las Vegas metropolitan area.
The Ewings started working with contractors Dan Willey, applying for construction permits and hoping the rest of the money would eventually be approved. But when North Las Vegas finances started drying up, they claim their City contact told them something.
"We'd like for you to get your redevelopment funds out of here or there's a very, very good possibility you'll be losing them. So we did. We basically did what the city told us to do," said Dan Willey.
Between July 2010 and September 2011, they invoiced the city for $700,000 in claimed relocation expenses. They now admit the invoices listed some stuff they hadn't bought, but say all the money has been spent on the project.
"So could someone look at that and say that's fraudulent," asked Darcy.
"I suppose they could," said Jimmy.
The search warrants calls the invoices fictitious. Police believe no construction equipment or materials were every purchased. The search warrant says Jimmy claimed the purchases were in storage.
The Ewings say storage isn't just a term they made up for stuff that doesn't exist. Two semi-trailers are actually full of equipment they say they spent the city's redevelopment money on and it's just the beginning.
"There are all the high bay lights we purchased to hang in the new building," said Jimmy.
So what about that new building? A vacant lot near Lamb just north of Craig is where Motor Mission is planning to relocate. It's growing weeds and is strewn with trash. The emptiness, according to police, is evidence that the City's money was misspent.
Jimmy says when the economy took a nosedive, they lost a ton on the land value and couldn't get a construction loan to break ground.
"Has a crime been committed here?" asked Darcy.
"Not in our opinion. I mean, we've spent in excess of that money on this project and we've never told anybody that we're not trying to finish the project," said Jimmy.
Not according to the state, who filed a nine count criminal complaint Tuesday morning, charging Jimmy, Dan, and Jimmy's mom with theft and forgery. No one from the city or police department would comment on this case, but the city is preparing to spend more tax dollars to sue Motor Mission. The city has also evicted Motor Mission. They're doing business from a new location near Arville and Hacienda.
Darcy talked to former Redevelopment Agency staff who believe all of this is politically motivated. They think because the city's finances are in shambles, current power players are making Motor Mission a scapegoat.