Business:

Unsolved mystery: Who is sabotaging the Strip’s sheets and towels with dye bombs?

Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

An ink-stained towel, which was ruined by a secretly sewn-in ink packet, is compared to a white towel during a walk-through of Apex Linen in Las Vegas Tuesday, October 30, 2013.

Ink bombs

Freshly ironed and folded sheets travel along a conveyer belt as employees prepare them to be bundled for client delivery during a walk-through of Apex Linen in Las Vegas Tuesday, October 30, 2013. Launch slideshow »

For three months, someone has been dropping dye bombs into Marty Martin’s dirty laundry.

Martin is the guy in charge of laundering thousands of pounds of sheets and towels soiled in Strip hotels.

The culprit’s identity remains a mystery, but the message is clear.

Martin says the vandalism is payback for his success. His company has taken a significant amount of business away from competitors.

It’s the kind of corporate sabotage one might expect in a casino or nightclub. But insiders say such treachery has played out in Las Vegas laundry rooms for years.

“It’s a dirty business,” said Martin, executive vice president of Apex Linen. “No pun intended.”

The trouble began in mid-July, when Martin, a longtime laundry equipment executive, got a frantic call from the crew inside his company’s $25 million laundry facility. Something was wrong with the company's 12-foot-high, 60-foot-long washing machine.

The water and 10,000 pounds of white linens had turned black.

Martin’s first guess was that the machine had leaked some of its hydraulic oil. But when he saw the water and damaged towels up close, he knew it was more than a faulty line.

He found a scrunched-up baggie inside the machine’s giant, tumbling belly filled with remnants of black dye powder.

He quickly discovered the dye was part of a larger “dye bomb.” Someone had cut a pocket into a dirty towel, loaded it with a dye-filled baggie and sewed the pocket closed. The person also cut the corners off the baggie so that it would slowly release the dye when the machine soaked the packet in water.

The bomb destroyed almost all of the towels in the load, a $4,000 hit.

“It’s sabotage,” Martin said. “The reason this is happening is we came out of nowhere and we’re taking over.”

•••

Las Vegas’ linens business is more competitive than you may think.

People thought Martin and his business partner were crazy to open a laundry business with borrowed money in the middle of a recession. But not long after Apex debuted in 2011, it landed millions of dollars worth of contracts with the Tropicana, South Point, Cannery and Treasure Island.

The company now employs 200 people and cleans 200,000 towels, sheets and uniforms — or 100,000 pounds of linens — every day.

That’s work Apex took from other companies. Many of his employees also previously worked for competitors.

Martin is unapologetic. That’s business, he said.

“We have to keep supporting our team and growing over here,” he said.

Both MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment have in-house laundry operations, so companies fight hard to land other accounts on the Strip. The competition can get ugly.

In just three years, Apex has fought (and won) non-compete lawsuits from other laundry companies; Martin has fired mole employees planted by competitors to disrupt operations at Apex; he has overcome a break-in to his office; and he has discovered that someone has been trying to cash fraudulent checks embossed with Apex’s name and logo, Martin said.

“They have been trying to stop us,” Martin said.

Apex is offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest of the dye bomber. But so far, no one has come forward.

“I don’t know if it’s a fear thing or if no one really knows,” Martin said.

•••

Martin filed a report with Metro Police. His crew caught some dye packets before they went into the machine and handed them over to investigators.

Detectives said they would run tests for fingerprints, but Martin hasn’t received any results. That was weeks ago.

Apex also coordinated with the resorts it serves. Martin knows the sabotage isn’t happening in his plant. Surveillance video covers the entire property.

“We watched all the tape,” he said. “We have GPS on the truck.”

Some hotel security bosses let Martin watch surveillance video for leads, which were scarce.

He once spotted a man who stepped into a hotel elevator with a full backpack, only to come back down three minutes later with an empty backpack.

But that’s not proof of wrongdoing. Metro needs more — video of the culprit tossing the contents of the backpack into a maid’s cart, for instance.

Resort brass also needed more and were reluctant to bother anyone inside their hotel without solid proof of a crime.

“This is something they just don’t want to deal with at all,” Martin said. “Really, this is just something that we’ll have to deal with on our end.”

•••

Apex told clients about the attacks when they happened, but Martin said the news didn’t damage any relationships.

“They were kind of laughing about it,” Martin said. “They felt bad for us. They said, ‘Aw, jeez, what a business you guys are in.’”

The saboteur has targeted only Apex’s in-house inventory — the towels and sheets the company rents to hotels, not those owned by the resorts.

In all, the vandals have damaged about $100,000 in linens.

Cleaning crews restored some of the dyed items. Others landed in the trash.

Martin had heard rumors of treachery and dirty dealings before he got into laundry operations.

“It’s an old technique,” he said. “In the old days, they had this stuff going on. (It’s a) turf war.”

Based on what he has heard around town, Martin said he’s pretty sure Apex is the only local laundry company dealing with sabotage now.

Who would launch such a vicious campaign?

Martin has his suspicions, but he wouldn’t comment on them. That’s a job for the cops.

Until then, it’s business as usual. Martin said he isn’t going to let a little black dye slow him down.

“People in the laundry business are stubborn,” he said.

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