Carson City being sued for allowing misuse of public land.
Carson businessman and former city supervisor Bill Burnaugh is back in the hot seat, dealing with allegations that he used public land to do business.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this month against the city, neighboring businessman Jerry Vaccaro, manager of Capitol City Liquidators Inc., alleges the city has not followed through on a series of demands made to Burnaugh’s business, Capitol City Loan.
He said Burnaugh failed to remove vehicles from an acre-sized parcel of Bureau of Land Management property between his business and the city’s Eagle Valley public golf course (located on the opposite side of Highway 50 East).
Vaccaro believes that Carson City officials are not pursuing Burnaugh’s illegal use of the land because of preferential treatment within city government.
“On or about 1975, District Judge Fondi wrote a letter of commendation to the Washoe County District Attorney on behalf of William Burnaugh, who was being prosecuted for possession of burglar tools after being arrested by the Nevada Highway Patrol in Washoe County,” according to the petition.
Defending the city’s actions, Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg, who is responsible for bringing Burnaugh’s business back into compliance with land regulations, said the city has no reason to prosecute Burnaugh, who is taking steps to procure the land through a complicated land swap.
“The case is being held as is,” he said. “The city is looking for a way to resolve this without tearing a building down.”
Deputy District Attorney Melanie Bruketta filed a motion to disallow witnesses summoned by Vaccaro. She contends that because the summonses were not served directly to their recipients, they are not legal.
District Judge Michael Fondi has not made a ruling on the motion.
Vaccaro’s lawsuit stems from a February 1998 request, and subsequent citation, that told Burnaugh to stop using the land to display vehicles offered for sale. The district attorney’s office warned that continued use of the property could result in a $1,000-a-day fine.
The land was given to the city by the BLM in 1974 to be used in the operation of the golf course. Due to a miscalculation a part of the structure crosses the boundary. Only about one acre of the land lies on the south side of Highway 50 East.
Burnaugh’s lawyer Laura Fitzsimmons said Vaccaro is obsessed with damaging Burnaugh’s business because of a long-standing grudge. Vaccaro once leased the building until he was not able to make payments, she said. “That’s when Burnaugh took over.”
“He’s actually done citizen’s arrests,” she said. “He goes out there just about every day to make sure nobody’s using that land.”
Burnaugh, who lives part-time in Mexico, is out of the country until early January. He was unavailable for comment.
In a 1998 letter to Burnaugh, the Carson City District Attorney’s Office stated that “the city strictly requires that the land be used for public purpose” and Capitol City Loan cannot “continue to use or occupy the land for any purpose.”
The warning gave Burnaugh 30 days to comply. If he failed, “the city will begin the process of fencing or posting warnings on the property against trespassing.”
The petition alleges that in May of 1998, a citation was issued to Burnaugh for which no subsequent action was taken. In April of this year, a similar sheriff’s department trespassing citation was given to Burnaugh.
Vaccaro claims Forsberg “prevented action on the citation” by dismissing the charge against Burnaugh.
Forsberg said the district attorney’s office is holding off on criminal action against Burnaugh until he is able to negotiate the land swap.
“In cases like these, the discretion for prosecution lies in hands of the district attorney,” he said. “The city is waiting for the situation to resolve itself.”