LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY
Federal lawsuit targets Front Sight gun "resort"
RICO ACT TAKES AIM AT FACILITY NEAR PAHRUMP; FOUNDER PIAZZA SAYS ALLEGATIONS WITHOUT MERIT
The Pahrump Valley Times
By GINA B. GOOD
The staccato of controlled bursts from Uzi submachine guns was mixed with the excited laughter of children climbing 200 feet up a rock wall. In a scenario revisited on a regular basis at Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, 300 students of all ages converged at the desert playground for active families and firearms enthusiasts.
Students from New York to California spent four days taking courses in rappelling, defensive handgun, tactical shotgun and practical rifle, unaware that just a few days earlier a federal lawsuit that could prove potentially disastrous to this planned firearms community was filed in federal court.
Front Sight, a resort-in-the-making located 30 miles south of Pahrump near the Spanish Trail, is in the crosshairs of at least three of its members who filed a class action against founder Ignatius Piazza and Front Sight Management Incorporated on Nov. 7.
Stacy James and Michael Schriber of Southern California and Bill Haag, who maintains a residence in Pahrump, filed the suit in California, where Front Sight is headquartered. The action demands a jury trial under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
When Congress passed the RICO Act in 1970, its intent was to eliminate organized crime. However, according to attorney Jeffrey Grell, an expert in RICO Act law who has written books on the subject, civil suits began to emerge in the 1980s. Today, RICO is almost never applied to the Mafia, but is used against individuals, businesses, political protest groups and even terrorist organizations. On his Ricoact.com Web site, Grell reports "RICO has become one of the most complicated and unpredictable areas of the law."
The 26-page complaint against Front Sight centers on membership benefits and promises. At the organization's inception in 1998, memberships were sold to fund construction of shooting ranges. Free classes for life with memberships that could be willed to family members were attractive to gun owners who sought professional training. Additional benefits - like home sites - were promised for higher priced memberships.
Whether promises have been kept depends upon who is doing the talking.
Students firing 800 rounds down range at paper targets during a four-day handgun course have one viewpoint - it's fun. They also say it is essential training.
"Mostly, I just want to be safe," said first-time student Wayne Taylor, an engineer from Ridgecrest, Calif. "I love it here. It exceeds my expectations."
Taylor attended the $1,200, 4-day defensive handgun course at no cost. Fellow engineer H. Sam Edwards gave Taylor a certificate to take the course that Edwards received as part of the membership package he purchased after taking his first course earlier this year.
Certificates to give away to family and friends or sell at discounted prices have always been part of the allure for joining the Front Sight First Family membership program. In fact, it is possible to recoup the full cost of a basic membership by selling certificates. However, Bill Haag paid $175,000 for a platinum VIP membership that includes a one-acre home site and has waited years to build his home on the range on property that as yet has no road, power, water or sewer service - and he is mad enough to file suit on behalf of any one of the 3,000 students who feel they have been deceived by Front Sight.
"It's time someone stepped up on behalf of the members," was all Haag felt he could say about the court case.
However, Piazza - the founder and president of Front Sight Management - had plenty to say about the allegations contained in the complaint.
"I have been keeping my nose to the grindstone and working 12 to 16 hours a day, six to seven days per week on Front Sight ever since we broke ground in 1998," he stated. "I wish the project had moved faster, but this type of unique resort has never been built before - anywhere. That presents a number of problems that simply must be overcome with time."
Speaking about several development deals for the planned community that he has nixed or that have fallen through in the past, Piazza says, "If we had completed the project a few years ago on our own, it would never have been as beautiful or complete as it can be now. The delays have been a blessing in disguise."
Editor's note: The Pahrump Valley Times will continue to investigate this issue. Any parties who believe they've been harmed - or helped - by Front Sight are encouraged to contact the newspaper.
A first-time student from New York shoots a fully automatic M-16 rifle from a Robinson R-44 helicopter. She was firing at steel targets in the desert, set up in various tactical scenarios - depicting one person to a group of terrorists holding hostages.
Front Sight occupies 550 acres, 30 miles south of Pahrump off Tecopa Road. Aerial views show 15- to 400-yard shooting ranges, as well as rope and rappelling towers and classrooms.