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Judge orders bail returned to former LVCVA exec Brig Lawson

Updated April 30, 2019 - 3:08 pm

A judge Tuesday ordered the return of the bail posted by a former top tourism executive after prosecutors said they were not prepared to file a criminal complaint against him in the alleged theft of airline gift cards.

Justice of the Peace Harmony Letizia gave prosecutors another four months to file criminal charges against Brig Lawson in the alleged theft of $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards bought by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Afterwards, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jay P. Raman said he would file a complaint within that period. He declined further comment.

Lawson, who oversaw business partnerships for the tax-funded LVCVA, was not in court. He was represented by a new lawyer, Chris Oram, who declined comment afterward.

But veteran criminal defense lawyers not involved in the case raised questions about Lawson’s March 27 arrest . Las Vegas police took Lawson into custody the same day detectives searched the convention authority’s offices, seizing seven years of electronic records related to the Southwest Airlines gift cards.

“It seems utterly incredible that in an investigation of this magnitude that they would go and do a probable cause arrest, put him in jail and make him post a bond and then later say, ‘by the way we’re not ready to charge him yet,’” defense attorney Thomas Pitaro said. “It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not the way the system is supposed to work.”

Attorney Craig Drummond shared Pitaro’s concerns about the lack of coordination between police and the district attorney’s office, suggesting Lawson’s arrest was premature.

“In a high-profile case, when there is coordination in a probable cause arrest, charges usually come in a very short order,” Drummond said.

Defense lawyer Todd Leventhal said it looks like police were “rattling the cage to see if there were any potential cooperators out there.”

A police report made public three weeks ago alleged that Lawson was at the center of a conspiracy to steal the Southwest Airlines gift cards, which were purchased between 2012 and 2017.

Lawson concealed the gift card purchases in agency financial records promoting the airline and dispersed them “as he saw fit for his own financial and personal gain,” the report alleged.

His longtime partner, entertainment booking agent Phil Reynolds, bought 29 Southwest Airlines tickets with more than $9,200 in gift cards. The LVCVA terminated a contract with Reynolds after it learned he was in a “dating relationship” with Lawson, police alleged.

Former Chief Marketing Officer Cathy Tull, who was one of Lawson’s supervisors, used nearly $6,000 in gift cards to buy 18 Southwest tickets, mostly for her former husband and two sons, the police report alleged. Tull resigned from the convention authority two weeks ago without a financial separation agreement.

When Lawson resigned last May, the LVCVA gave him a financial package worth more than $100,000. That included $36,672 in separation pay, $59,715 worth of unused vacation days and up to $12,000 of monthly health insurance coverage for a year, records obtained by the Review-Journal show.

The buyout deal was done while Rossi Ralenkotter ran the agency and Tull spearheaded worldwide marketing efforts to attract tourists to Las Vegas.

Auditors hired by the convention authority’s board found that Ralenkotter used $17,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards for personal travel.

Ralenkotter, who retired as CEO in August with a $455,000 financial package, publicly apologized for his conduct and paid back the $17,000. His retirement deal includes a $15,000-a-month consulting contract with the agency.

Auditors last June said they could not account for more than $50,000 in Southwest gift cards because the convention authority did not properly track them. With the help of Southwest Airlines, police later identified a majority of the people who used the cards, but the company told detectives it only retained records dating to 2014.

Lawson also played a key role in helping Ralenkotter and Tull get free British Airways upgrades for family members, the Review-Journal reported two weeks ago.

In return for arranging the upgrades, the LVCVA provided a top British Airways executive with thousands of dollars worth of meals and show tickets on the Strip at taxpayer expense, records show.

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.

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