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LVCVA cracking down after misuse of airline gift cards

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board approved a series of recommendations Tuesday to curb employee misuse of airline gift cards.

Still, Bill Noonan, chairman of the board’s audit committee, said additional measures may be needed to tighten up other travel policies within the publicly funded convention authority.

“We’re not done,” said Noonan, who also is a senior vice president at Boyd Gaming. “There could easily be more.”

He declined to provide details but said the final results of a review of the travel policies could be brought before his committee and the full board as early as next month.

Auditors last month revealed that convention authority CEO Rossi Ralenkotter used $17,152 in Southwest Airlines cards for personal travel for himself and his family. Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, who chairs the board, used $699 in Southwest cards for a trip with his daughter.

Lack of internal controls

A lack of internal controls over the cards, which were circulated between 2012 and 2017, led to their misuse for personal travel, auditors concluded.

Authority financial executives discovered the existence of the gift cards in February 2017, but the agency did not report it to the board until February of this year, after the executives confronted Ralenkotter about his personal use. Ralenkotter informed Noonan, who then ordered the review.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal had requested employee gift and travel records months before the gift card disclosure in 2017, but the authority did not provide any records of the airline cards. It maintains there was no process in place at the time to track use of the cards.

Auditors so far have not addressed how many employees had access to the cards, which were distributed by Brig Lawson, the agency’s director of business partnerships.

The recommendations approved Tuesday included storing the cards under lock and key, requiring written approval of any gift card requests and recording receipts.

Many of the restrictions already have been put in place, Noonan said.

Last month, Noonan scolded Ralenkotter before the audit committee, saying the tourism chief’s personal use of the cards was “highly inappropriate.”

Ralenkotter earned nearly $900,000 last year in salary, bonus and benefits, according to government watchdog group Transparent Nevada.

Before the quick, unanimous vote Tuesday, board members did not ask any questions about the gift card abuse, and the names of Ralenkotter and Weekly did not come up.

‘We need to do a better job’

After the meeting, Noonan said he was concerned about the authority’s inability to keep track of the cards.

“There just weren’t any clear guidelines that you might see in private business,” he said. “The good news is the staff recognizes that and believes we need to do a better job of trying to put more comprehensive policies in place.”

Both Ralenkotter and Weekly took responsibility for their actions last month and have repaid the money to the convention authority. Employees are no longer allowed to use airline cards for personal trips.

The new policies come amid a Review-Journal investigation that has questioned the agency’s spending and cozy relationship with board members.

An April 2017 Review-Journal story, based on more than 32,000 pages of receipts from convention authority executives over three fiscal years, showed lavish expenses on high-end entertainment, gifts for employees and first-class trips overseas for board members.

The Review-Journal also found that convention security officers were providing rides to Ralenkotter and former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who was paid $72,000 a year to serve as the agency’s tourism ambassador. The ongoing investigation showed lax controls over iPads, speakers and other gifts at the authority’s warehouse.

The agency has an operating budget of about $251 million, funded mostly by hotel room taxes, and uses it to promote tourism and operate the Las Vegas Convention Center.

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 and Convention Center, which competes with the LVCVA-operated Las Vegas Convention Center.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564. Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0286. Contact Brian Joseph at bjoseph@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5208. Follow @JGermanRJ, @ArthurMKane and @bjoseph1 on Twitter.

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