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Judge orders records released; Southwest exec fired in LVCVA case

Updated November 19, 2019 - 5:37 pm

A Las Vegas judge Tuesday ordered the unredacted release of police records that sought the arrest of former tourism boss Rossi Ralenkotter and other defendants on felony theft charges.

Justice of the Peace Harmony Letizia also said in court that recent defense attacks on the Review-Journal’s reporting in the LVCVA criminal case were not appropriate and irrelevant to the newspaper’s push to make public the full police report.

“There’s no compelling interest to justify redaction in this case,” Letizia said from the bench.

Afterward, Benjamin Lipman, the Review-Journal’s vice-president of legal affairs and general counsel, praised the judge’s decision.

“It is a shame the defendants wasted so much of the court’s time fighting against the public’s clear right of access to the court records,” Lipman said. “We are happy the court vindicated the public’s right of access and ordered disclosure of the records.

Review-Journal attorney Maggie McLetchie called the attacks on the newspaper “offensive” during the hearing and an effort by the defense to stall the newspaper’s investigative efforts.

Letizia’s ruling was one of several developments in the high-profile case coming from the hearing.

The lawyer for one of Ralenkotter’s co-defendants, Eric Woodson, told Letizia that his client “lost his job” at Southwest Airlines over the alleged misuse of company gift cards bought by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Police have alleged that Woodson helped former LVCVA executive Brig Lawson disguise the purchase of the gift cards. It is unclear when Woodson left the airline. His LinkedIn account still shows his Southwest affiliation, and his lawyer, Pete Christiansen, did not respond to a request for comment after the hearing.

Letizia also publicly discussed why Ralenkotter, Woodson and another co-defendant, former LVCVA Chief Marketing Officer Cathy Tull, were not processed at the Clark County Detention Center, raising questions of special treatment. Lawson was arrested earlier in the case and booked at the detention center. The judge said she quashed the warrants for the three other defendants after the former lead prosecutor in the case, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jay P. Raman, did not voice any opposition.

One of the case’s new prosecutors, Chief Deputy District Attorney Colleen Baharav, said Raman did not oppose recalling the warrants after Ralenkotter’s lawyer, Anthony Sgro, promised to surrender the former convention authority CEO for a routine walk-through at the detention center.

But the walk-throughs, which involve taking mugshots and finger prints, did not happen because there was no active warrant to book the defendants. All four defendants are now free on their own recognizance.

The criminal investigation was prompted by Review-Journal stories disclosing audit results that showed widespread misuse of the gift cards within the LVCVA. The audit was ordered amid a Review-Journal investigation that revealed wasteful spending and poor oversight at the convention authority.

Between 2012 and 2017, the LVCVA bought $90,000 in Southwest gift cards, and at least $35,000 worth of the cards were used on personal travel, according to police and LVCVA records.

The criminal complaint alleges that Ralenkotter used roughly $16,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards on personal travel and that Tull bought airline tickets for herself and family members with $6,000 in gift cards. Both executives reimbursed the LVCVA and left the agency before they were charged.

Lawson bought the gift cards for the convention authority and instructed Southwest employees to hide the purchases in promotional invoices, police allege. Lawson then distributed the cards to Ralenkotter, Tull and others.

Letizia has set a March 26 preliminary hearing to determine whether to move the case to Clark County District Court for trial.

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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