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City water used in error

(ran PW, PS editions)

A gambling boat operation tapped into the city's water supply and used thousands of gallons for free until a police investigation last month revealed the use, records show.

Paradise of Port Richey acknowledged that water was taken and apparently used to wash boats but said it was done so by mistake.

City Manager Vince Lupo agreed. Lupo later said the investigation, which could have resulted in theft charges, could be closed because an agreement for payment had been reached.

Lupo said he has used such discretion before and would do so said again under similar circumstances.

"They did not get a pass. All they received was some understanding," the city manager told the Times on Thursday. "There was no evidence to defraud here."

Several details of the report were contested Thursday.

Officer Patrick Alu wrote after speaking with city utility officials that "over 400-million gallons of city water had disappeared over the past five months."

But Lupo said that figure was grossly inflated. "That's a mistake, a bold mistake," he said.

And Lupo said the water was taken over a period of about two weeks, not five months. He said the gambling boat company had shown him receipts for piping that were dated roughly two weeks before the situation was discovered.

Even the amount Paradise of Port Richey was required to pay is unclear. A city record indicates the company was billed $765, based on five months of water use. But Paradise spokeswoman Beth Henson said the amount was reduced to about $250.

Echoing Lupo's sentiment, Henson said the situation was "no big deal," adding, "they made no issue out of it and we made no issue out of it."

She said she was not at liberty to answer other questions about the situation, such as who tapped into the water supply and what for.

The police report also mentions that electricity was taken from a city light pole and used by the gambling boat company. "Being next to the water and with such a bad hookup, potential for electrical shock was present," the report said.

Paradise was told to disable the line, the report said. That matter apparently was not investigated further.

The company has operated in Port Richey since 1995 under several names, run by the Kolokithas family.

_ Alex Leary can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is learysptimes.com.

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