Snubbed on phone, inspector sets out to teach a lesson

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted September 13, 1999

In his epic novel of the American gun culture, "Unintended Consequences," St. Louis investment banker John Ross captures the manner in which an unintended affront to the dignity of a government bureaucrat can escalate, these days, until it bears serious consequences for the citizen unfortunate enough to have "dissed" a member of this new aristocratic class (whether on purpose, or not.)

In the Ross novel, a fictional squad of tax enforcement agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms run into some very "unintended consequences" when they don their bulletproof vests, grab submachine guns from their arms locker, and head out to arrest a licensed machine-gun owner who "injured" one of their agents.

Nature of the injury? One of the female agent's long, decorated fingernails was torn when the gun owner in the Ross book instinctively grabbed a weapon out of her hand -- a weapon which the inexperienced agent had arrived to inventory, but which she was handling in an unsafe manner, having failed to check whether it was loaded.

The real-life example of this phenomenon which surfaced in Las Vegas this week may be less serious in its repercussions than the shoot-out which forms the centerpiece of the milestone Ross novel, but the combined degree of arrogance, ignorance, and capricious misuse of power displayed on East Desert Inn Road last spring sure makes Mr. Ross sound pretty much on target.

According to a story by staff writer Caren Benjamin in the Sept. 2 Review-Journal, a representative of Clark County's Department of Business License called the medical office of Dr. Simone Russo back on June 6, asking for the number of the office's business license.

Dr. Russo instructed his office manager, Barbara Hower, not to give out the number over the phone, since there was no way to check the identification of the caller. Instead, Ms. Hower asked for a phone number at which she could return the call.

Well, I don't mind telling you, business license inspector Almalinda Guerrero wasn't going to put up with that! She marched herself right down to that doctor's office, and demanded to see that license. Since by that time Ms. Hower had taken the license down off the wall to see if she could find a phone number there for the license department, Ms. Guerrero wrote her up for a violation: Failure to display the license on the wall.

But was that enough for this dauntless enforcer of the county's inane business licensing statutes? Oh No. Ms. Guerrero then proceeded to poke her head into one of the doctor's examining rooms -- despite loud protestations from the staff that this was an inappropriate violation of patient privacy -- where she witnessed a male patient with his shirt off and his trousers pulled part-way down, with lotion being applied to his body in preparation for an ultrasound examination.

Or so the doctor's staff said. But what did they think, Almalinda Guerrero was born yesterday? Nosiree Bob. They weren't about to put one over on anyone as savvy as Ms. Guerrero, who promptly wrote up Dr. Russo's office for operating a massage parlor without a proper license!

The business licensing office is "still looking into the matter," reports license chief Ardel Jorgensen.

In hopes of fabricating more charges?

With the possible exception of enterprises that handle hazardous substances, or offer services especially prone to corruption, local business licensing regulations are nothing but a hidden tax on productive enterprises in the first place. If this is the level of arrogance and harassment honest practitioners can expect, the Clark County Commission should review why the county needs such an ordinance -- and such an office -- at all.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $21.95 plus $3 shipping ($6 UPS; $2 shipping each additional copy) through Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127. The 500-page trade paperback may also be ordered via web site, or at 1-800-244-2224. Credit cards accepted; volume discounts available.

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