weather icon Clear

Ex-LVCVA exec returning to Las Vegas to fight charges, attorney says

Updated September 11, 2019 - 6:57 pm

Cathy Tull, the former chief marketing officer for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, was a no-show in court Tuesday when called to face felony charges in the Southwest Airlines gift card case.

But the mystery was solved Wednesday.

Tull’s newly hired criminal attorney, Paola Armeni, said Tull was “out of the country” and unable to make an initial court appearance on the charges.

“As soon as she became aware of the complaint, she did what she had to do to get representation,” Armeni said. “Obviously, we’re going to zealously represent her interests.”

Because Tull was not in court Tuesday, Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Harmony Letizia kept a warrant for her arrest active until she surrenders at the Clark County Detention Center for a booking walk-through. The procedure allows her to be released on her own recognizance after she is processed.

Armeni said Wednesday she filed a motion to quash the warrant to give her client an opportunity to check in with the detention center when she returns to Las Vegas. Letizia set a hearing for Monday.

“She’s coming back,” Armeni said. “It’s just a question of getting back and handling this.”

Tull, 52, was one of four people, including her former boss, longtime CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, charged in the misuse of $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards bought by the tax-funded agency between 2012 and 2017. Former LVCVA Business Partnerships Director Brig Lawson and Southwest marketing executive Eric Woodson also were charged.

Letizia quashed the arrest warrants for Ralenkotter and Woodson, who lives in Dallas, the site of Southwest’s headquarters. Both Ralenkotter and Woodson were given opportunities to do a walk-through. Lawson was arrested in March and does not need to be processed by the detention center.

Tull and Ralenkotter were charged with theft and misconduct of a public officer, both felonies. The theft charge draws a maximum 10 years in prison and $10,000 fine. The misconduct charge carries a maximum four years behind bars and $5,000 fine.

The seven-count criminal complaint comes after a yearlong investigation of the LVCVA that police said was prompted by Review-Journal stories disclosing audit results of the secretive gift card purchases. The newspaper has been investigating excessive spending and lax accountability of gifts to staffers and board members at the LVCVA, most of which occurred during Ralenkotter’s tenure.

Tull, who spent 14 years at the tourism agency, resigned in April after it became public that she used more than $6,000 in Southwest gift cards on travel for herself and family. She did not get severance pay but walked away with more than $110,000 for 877 hours of accrued vacation time, records show.

Less than a week after the gift card disclosure, Tull wrote a $6,059 check to the LVCVA for her personal use of the cards, records show. A few days later, she gave up her job.

Tull later cooperated with the Nevada Commission on Ethics and agreed to pay $8,700 in fines for violating the public’s trust.

Police have alleged that Lawson concealed the gift card purchases in LVCVA financial records promoting the airline and distributed them for personal gain and prestige within the tourism agency.

Tull, one of Lawson’s supervisors, approved the majority of the transactions, records show.

After Tull resigned, she took a job running the Las Vegas office of Cult Collective, a Canadian-based marketing service company.

In a news release, Cult CEO Chris Kneeland touted Tull’s tourism experience as “invaluable” to his company.

Kneeland told the Review-Journal at the time that he believed Tull was a “woman of integrity.”

“She’s been incredibly transparent about this from the beginning, and we are confident that there’s going to be a swift conclusion and she’ll be able to go on with her life.”

On Wednesday, Kneeland said he was working with Tull and her lawyer to understand the charges against her.

“We continue to support Cathy and believe she’s innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “Being charged is not the same as being convicted. Until she goes to court, she is continuing to pursue employment by sharing her professional expertise with clients seeking it.”

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.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.