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Ex-LVCVA boss to pay thousands in ethics fines over gift card scandal

Updated August 19, 2020 - 12:46 pm

Former Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Rossi Ralenkotter has agreed to pay $24,406 in ethics fines for violating state laws prohibiting him from using his longtime public position to enrich himself.

The fines stem from Ralenkotter’s use of LVCVA-bought airline gift cards on personal travel and his negotiation of a consulting contract with the tax-funded agency before he retired, according to the agreement approved Wednesday by the Nevada Commission on Ethics.

“Ralenkotter did not adequately avoid the conflict of interest between his public duties and private interests when he accepted free travel for himself and his spouse paid for with LVCVA airline gift cards,” the agreement states.

In all, the agreement says, he used nearly $17,000 in gift cards the LVCVA purchased from Southwest Airlines on personal travel and gave $200 cards to more than a half-dozen employees as gifts.

Ralenkotter, 73, also used his position to obtain a “post-employment consulting contract with the LVCVA without proper disclosures,” the agreement says. The contract, spread out over 18 months, was valued at $270,000.

The Ethics Commission approved the deal at a public meeting in Carson City.

Earlier this month, the Review-Journal reported that Ralenkotter was discussing a plea deal with prosecutors in the high-profile criminal case. He currently faces two felony counts, theft and misconduct of a public officer.

Attorney Terry Coffing, who helped Ralenkotter negotiate the ethics agreement, declined to discuss it Tuesday. But he told the commission Wednesday that Ralenkotter planned to pay the entire $24,406 by the end of the day.

The action comes two years after the Ethics Commission opened an investigation of Ralenkotter, as he was about to retire from the influential tourism agency. Ralenkotter was earning almost $1 million a year in salary and benefits at the time and preparing to receive a nearly $300,000 annual state pension.

The 14-member LVCVA board approved his $455,000 separation package in August 2018, which included the $15,000-a-month consulting contract.

But a year later, the board canceled the contract after Ralenkotter and other former convention authority executives were charged in the alleged gift card theft.

Criminal case

The criminal investigation was prompted by Review-Journal stories in 2018 disclosing audit results that showed widespread misuse of the Southwest gift cards. The agency could not account for $50,000 of the $90,000 in purchased Southwest cards, the audit found.

The audit was ordered amid the newspaper’s investigation that revealed wasteful spending and poor board oversight of the convention authority.

The criminal complaint also alleged that Ralenkotter’s top marketing executive, Cathy Tull, bought airline tickets for personal travel with $6,000 in gift cards. Both Ralenkotter and Tull reimbursed the LVCVA and left the agency before they were charged.

Tull, 52, who also is charged with theft and misconduct by a public officer, agreed last year to pay $8,700 in fines to the Ethics Commission.

In Ralenkotter’s ethics case, he agreed to pay a $5,000 fine for “improper use of LVCVA property for a personal purpose” and another $16,906 fine for the value of the gift cards used in his personal travel. He also agreed to pay the commission $2,500 for his ethical misconduct in the consulting contract negotiations.

The agreement praises Ralenkotter for cooperating with the commission’s investigation, as well as auditors hired by the LVCVA. It also states that Ralenkotter publicly accepted responsibility for his misconduct and maintained that it was not intentional.

“However,” the agreement states, “these mitigating factors are offset by the seriousness of the conduct when measured against the public’s trust that public officers will not use their public position or influence to acquire economic opportunities or advantages for themselves that are not available to the general public.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands Corp. operates the Sands Expo & Convention Center, which competes with the LVCVA-operated Las Vegas Convention Center.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter. German is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing. Support our journalism.

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