LVCVA executive bought travel gift cards in secret

A former Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority executive hid the purchase of $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards in records at the agency, an audit report shows.

In funding requests between 2012 and 2017, Brig Lawson, senior director of business partnerships, said the money was for promotional events and did not disclose that it was for the gift cards, the report shows.

Lawson also instructed Southwest employees to submit invoices to the publicly funded convention authority without mentioning the purchases were for the cards.

“Discussions with management indicate the gift cards were purchased with LVCVA funds by check and recorded as a promotional expense in accounting records,” the report states.

Auditors could not account for more than $50,000 of the cards, and they learned that longtime CEO Rossi Ralenkotter and his wife used $16,207 in cards for personal travel.

In a 2013 email conversation, Lawson told a Southwest employee to provide an invoice identifying a $12,000 gift card purchase as a special travel program.

“Can’t pull the invoice, but the request for invoice had this: Summer Travel Program Sponsorship,” the Southwest employee wrote. “Would you prefer it say this and not gift cards?”

Lawson responded, “Yes…that’s perfect.”

The report shows that Lawson submitted a request for $54,000 in 2015 to sponsor a Southwest event, but he did not mention that $12,000 of those funds were for buying airline gift cards. Emails reviewed by auditors show the budget for the hanger event was only $42,000.

A second $15,000 gift card purchase from Southwest in 2015 was described as a “planning summit,” the report shows.

In 2017, Lawson told a Southwest employee in an email that the invoice for a $14,000 gift card purchase needed to say “Sponsorship: 2017 Southwest Airlines Deck Event,” according to the audit report.

Ed Finger, the convention authority’s chief financial officer, told auditors that Southwest officials indicated they did not keep records of any gift cards issued to the agency.

“As of the date of this report, we have made no additional inquiries to Southwest to determine if this information may become available at a later date,” auditors said in the report.

Southwest Airlines spokesman Dan Landson declined to comment on Monday.

Auditors also discovered that there was little agency tracking of the gift cards.

Bill Noonan, who chairs the convention authority board’s audit committee, ordered the audit amid a Review-Journal investigation into the agency’s spending and perks for board members and staff.

The Review-Journal had requested employee gift and travel records months before the original 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.

Personal use

Ralenkotter and his wife used the Southwest gift cards on a combined 56 trips to several cities, including Burbank, Calif., Chicago, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco, the report says.

Ralenkotter, who has stepped up retirement plans, has apologized for his actions and paid back the money to the agency. The cards can no longer be used for personal travel.

The report does not address whether any other authority staff knew the agency had bought the gift cards.

“I believe (Lawson) hid it from the CEO as well,” Noonan said. “I don’t believe Rossi Ralenkotter had a clue at all.”

Jean Burnett, the authority’s travel coordinator, told auditors that Ralenkotter directed her to “use Southwest gift cards to pay for personal travel and that some of the gift cards were kept in Ralenkotter’s top desk drawer.”

Lawson, who resigned as auditors finalized their review, admitted to auditors that he gave the cards to Ralenkotter, but was unaware Ralenkotter used them for personal travel.

Lawson could not be reached for comment Monday, and convention authority spokeswoman Jacqueline Peterson has declined to discuss his resignation, calling it a personnel matter.

Ralenkotter and Peterson on Monday declined to discuss the latest findings in the audit report.

Auditors said they were unable to determine whether $50,188 in cards were used for personal or business travel.

Nearly $20,000 of the $90,000 in cards went toward legitimate business travel, the report says.

Lawson purchased a total of 612 cards valued at $50, $100 and $200 between 2012 and 2017, the report says.

The 14-member authority board is expected to take up the audit report at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.

Following preliminary audit findings last month, the board approved several recommendations to curb the abuse, including storing the cards under lock and key, requiring written approval of any card requests and recording receipts.

In April 2017, the newspaper’s review of financial records over three years showed lavish expenses on high-end entertainment, gifts for employees and first-class trips overseas for board members.

The newspaper also found 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. Other records revealed lax controls over iPads, speakers and other warehouse items handed out as gifts.

Ralenkotter, 71, who has headed the high-profile tourism agency since 2004, has been preparing to retire after a year of battling cancer and criticism of the agency’s misspending and cozy relationship with board members.

Authority financial executives learned of the Southwest gift cards between January and February 2017, but it took more than a year to get that information to the board, according to the audit report.

Finger, the chief financial officer, was informed on January 31 of this year that Ralenkotter and others had used the cards for personal trips. Days later, Noonan, the audit committe chair, ordered the review.

In their three-month examination of the cards, auditors searched more than 51,000 emails of 13 staffers, including Lawson, Ralenkotter and Cathy Tull, the chief marketing officer.

The trio was among a half-dozen people, including the agency’s counsel, Luke Puschnig, who were interviewed by auditors.

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.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Group helping stranded motorists during power outage
A group of Good Samaritans are offering free gas to people in need at the Glendale AM/PM, during a massive power outage near Mesquite on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Naft sworn in to Clark County Commission
Michael Naft, chosen by Gov. Steve Sisolak to be his replacement on the Clark County Commission, was sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas police piecing together details of fatal shooting
Six hours after the fact, Las Vegas homicide detectives worked to reconstruct the scene of a shooting early Jan. 7 that left one man dead in the southeast valley. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dyer Lawrence explains college football playoff system proposal
Las Vegan Dyer Lawrence has a new idea for a college football playoff system that includes a unique scheduling component called National Call Out Day. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death row inmate Scott Dozier found dead in his cell
Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier is dead. Dozier’s death ends his legal odyssey, which began in 2007 when he was convicted in the 2002 murder of Jeremiah Miller, but does little to clarify what’s next for Nevada’s death penalty.
I-15 southbound near Primm closed after ‘major crash’
A rollover crash Saturday morning involving at least nine vehicles on southbound Interstate 15 near Primm caused an hourslong traffic delay. Traffic was backed up to Sloan, live traffic cameras show. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death Valley visitors deal with shutdown
Visitors staying at the Furnace Creek Campground were forced to move from the campground following health and safety concerns due to lack of resources during the partial government shutdown at Death Valley National Park in Calif., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Richard Brian Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph
Half of homicides in Henderson for 2018 domestic violence related
Lt. Kirk Moore of the public information office of the city of Henderson police department speaks to the Review-Journal in Henderson, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Henderson saw a slight increase in homicides in the past year. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak stops by Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak kicks off his tour to Carson City, which will take him from Las Vegas, through Tonopah, and up to the capital city. First stop is the Downtown Boys & Girls Club.
Certificates for renewing wedding vows in Clark County
The Marriage License Bureau in Clark County began issuing a Certificate of Vow Renewal to married couples who are renewing their wedding vows on Jan. 3, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas flu season better than last year (so far)
Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief medical officer and director of clinical services at the Southern Nevada Health District, said there were 24 flu-related deaths at this point in the flu season. No deaths have been reported so far this year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Las Vegas Valley’s First Baby of 2019
The first 2019 baby in the Las Vegas Valley was Melialani Chihiro Manning, born at 12:10 a.m. at Henderson Hospital. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Snow in Henderson on New Year's Eve morning
Light snow flurries in Anthem Highlands in Henderson on Monday morning, the last day of 2018.
Sources: Henderson Constable may face more charges
Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell may face additional charges ... stemming from his spending of county funds, sources said. Mitchell was indicted earlier this month on five felony theft and fraud charges ... after a Las Vegas Review-Journal story questioned his spending. But grand jury records show even more extensive spending including ... an $800 dinner at steakhouse ... nearly 200 atm withdrawals mostly at gambling establishments ... and even Disneyland tickets. But his attorney plans to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
Las Vegas NYE Restrictions and Enhanced Security
If you are planning to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip or Fremont Street, be aware that you are not allowed to bring backpacks, coolers, strollers or glass. There will also be an increase in security to ensure safe celebrations across town.
Catholic Charities serves up 53rd annual Christmas dinner
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and more than 100 volunteers served 1,000 Christmas meals to Southern Nevada's homeless and less fortunate. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @kmcannonphoto)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jeffrey Martin Added To Nevada's Black Book
Martin was one of four men convicted of theft and cheating at gambling in 2016 in Clark County District Court and sentenced to prison. The Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously Thursday to include Martin in the black book.
Raiders Stadium Timelapse
Construction on the new Raiders stadium continues in Las Vegas.
Politics
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Governor Steve Sisolak Talks Minimum Wage, Teacher Pay and the Cannabis Industry - VIDEO
Newly elected Governor Steve Sisolak talks with Review-Journal reporters about increasing the minimum wage, Nevada's budget for 2019 and increasing teacher's pay.
Nevada Politics Today: Kieckhefer signals that Republicans don’t support Sisolak’s tax hike
Gov. Steve Sisolak shouldn’t count on Senate Republican support for his desired tax hike. Collective bargaining for state workers would drive up costs, and Nevada should expand Opportunity Scholarships. That’s according to Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.
Harry Reid Brags About Abusing His Power - The Right Take - VIDEO
Harry Reid once risked his life to take on mob bosses. He’s now bragging about having successfully imitated their tactics during his political career.
Michael Naft sworn in to Clark County Commission
Michael Naft, chosen by Gov. Steve Sisolak to be his replacement on the Clark County Commission, was sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada State Supreme Court has first female majority
With the recent election of Justice Elissa Cadish and Justice Abbi Silver, the Nevada State Supreme Court now has a female majority. First oral arguments for the new court were heard Tuesday. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Newly elected trustees join Clark County School Board
District D Trustee Irene Cepeda, District F Trustee Danielle Ford and District G Trustee Linda Cavazos were sworn in at the Edward Greer Education Center on Monday, Jan. 8, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak Speaks at Inauguration - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks at the 2019 inauguration where he and other politicians were sworn into office on Monday, Jan. 7. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Steve Sisolak Signs Executive Order To Combat Sexual Harassment - VIDEO
Newly inaugurated Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak gets right to work signing a executive order to combat sexual harassment. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Inauguration 2019 - State Capitol Building, Carson City
Nevada Inauguration 2019 - State Capitol Building, Carson City
Democrats Support Border Walls For Themselves (The Right Take) - VIDEO
President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats remain at an impasse over wall funding as the government shutdown reaches the end of its second week. Trump insists on a physical barrier to secure the Southern border. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said a wall would be “ineffective.”
There's a new 'trump bump' at the White House
Journalists often crowd the White House briefing room expecting the latest news, but now the news is that many of the reporters are expecting. Steve Holland: “There’s such a baby boom going on in the White House Press Corps that we are always on standby for delivering a baby if necessary.” CBS’s Weijia Jiang. New York Post’s Marisa Schultz. The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker. Newsday’s Laura Figueroa. They’re just a few of the White House correspondents who are with child or who recently gave birth. Five more members of the White House Press Corps. delivered babies during Trump’s first two years: NPR’s Tamara Keith, CNN’s Pamela Brown, Fox News’ Kristin Fisher, CGTN’s Jessica Stone and NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe. Others are shy of publicity or not yet showing. But what’s behind this different kind of trump bump? For one, the moms-to-be are professional women whose careers are in a secure moment as they feel their biological clocks ticking. Another factor: political timing and family planning. There’s a short window between the 2016 and 2020 election cycles. Then there’s the matter that being a political journalist is stressful, and, well, certain activities can help alleviate that stress. Being pregnant in the White House briefing room definitely doesn’t make the job any easier, though. There are just 49 seats – and it’s not as if competitors are quick to offer up their coveted chairs. At one point, Ronica Cleary tweeted she was “less than enthusiastic about the nature of a room full of people who avoid offering a seat to a woman who is 371/2 weeks pregnant.” Even the press offices behind the press room are cramped. With the baby boom, the Christian Broadcasting Network’s small office now doubles as a breast bumping room. One journalist made headlines when she announced her pregnancy with an apparent jab at the president. Weijia Jiang’s baby bump was showing at a September press conference. When President Trump told her to “sit down,” she tweeted she couldn’t wait to teach her child that “when a man orders you to sit down because he doesn’t like what you’re saying, do anything but.”
Red Rock Canyon closed but accessible during partial government shutdown
The famed scenic loop of Red Rock National Conservation Area, which attracts tourists and climbers alike, was closed but accessible on Dec. 22, 2018, during a partial government shutdown forced by President Donald Trump. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Attorney General’s office prepares for transition
Attorney General-elect Aaron Ford and outgoing Attorney General Adam Laxalt hold a small press briefing to discuss the transition of the office.
Robert Uithoven On What Happened To Nevada Republicans
Record Democrat turnout doomed Nevada Republican candidates in last month’s election. That turnout was driven, in part, by the left’s dislike for President Donald Trump. Trump’s campaign needs to make an early investment in Nevada to be competitive in 2020. That’s all according to Robert Uithoven, a Republican political consultant.
Nevada Republicans Look For Answers After Election Loss - The Right Take
Nevada Republicans suffered a heavy loss during the 2018 midterm elections to Democrats. Political opinion columnist Victor Joecks goes over what Republicans need to do to win their next election.
Denis details his plans, goals for Nevada education - Nevada Politics Today
The top priority for Nevada education is overhauling the Nevada Plan. There isn’t going to be a tax hike to fully implement weighted funding, and Read by 3 needs to be modified. That’s all according to Sen. Mo Denis, who will chair the Senate Education Committee. Denis also said he doesn’t now support extending $20 million in tax credits for the Opportunity Scholarship program.
Former President George H.W. Bush dies at 94
Former President George H.W. Bush has died at the age of 94. He died Friday night in Houston, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara.
Nevada Politics Today: John Malcolm talks about FIRST STEP Act, judicial vacancies
The FIRST STEP Act is currently before the Senate to help decrease recidivism rates. States that have passed similar measures have seen a decrease in crime. Conservatives also shouldn’t push Clarence Thomas to retire before President Donald Trump’s first term is over. That’s all according to John Malcom, a senior legal fellow with the Heritage Foundation. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Thoughts on Wealth, Inequality, and Thanksgiving
Listen to some politicians and you’d think that America’s wealth should be a source of anger, not thanksgiving.
Nevada Politics Today: Robert Fellner
Nevada’s Supreme Court has ruled that public employee retiree payouts are public records and we’re talking someone from the winning side.
Rosen discusses plans and goals as U.S. Senator
U.S. Senator-elect Jacky Rosen meets with Las Vegas reporters to discuss her win and priorities as Nevada’s next senator.
The Right Take: Republicans Need To Advantage Of Third Party Candidates
Nevada had a blue wave on Tuesday, but some of Nevada’s most conservative voters amplified its reach.
Amy Tarkanian gives passionate speech after husband's election loss
Amy Tarkanian speaks to a small crowd after her husband, Danny Tarkanian, concedes the race for the 3rd Congressional District.
U.S. Senator-Elect Jacky Rosen gives her victory speech
After defeating Dean Heller for the Nevada Senate seat, Jacky Rosen gives her victory speech at Cesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Senator Dean Heller concedes in 2018 election
Senator Dean Heller concedes in 2018 election.
Nevada Election 2018 | Election Update
Nevada 2018 Election Update. Live from Las Vegas Review-Journal Studio with the latest results from election night.
Susie Lee defeats Danny Tarkanian in Nevada's 3rd Congressional District
Susie Lee delivers her acceptance speech after defeating Danny Tarkanian for Nevada's 3rd Congressional District. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Nevada Election 2018 | Election Update
Nevada Election 2018: A late night for those wanting election results.
Nevada Election 2018 | Election Update
Nevada Election 2018: A late night for those wanting election results. The latest from the Las Vegas Review Journal. Studio anchor Aaron Drawhorn joined by columnist Victor Joecks discussing voter turnout and impact.
Scenes from the Nevada GOP Election Party
Crowds gather at Nevada's GOP Election Party at South Point in Clark County. Michael Quine/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Long lines in 2018 Nevada election in Las Vegas
Polling places in Clark County, Nev., saw long lines during the 2018 election.
Dennis Hof Wins, What Now?
Although Nevada Republicans have seen stronger elections, brothel owner Dennis Hof, who passed away unexpectedly October 16, managed to win his race for Assembly District 36 despite being dead. Hof ran as a Republican, calling himself the “Trump of Pahrump.” Although the colorful candidate and showman easily defeated his Democratic opponent from the grave, county commissioners from the three counties comprising District 36 must now meet to name Hof’s replacement.
Henderson voters talk about their voting experience
Henderson voters talk about their voting experience. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Voters hit the polls at Downtown Summerlin in Las Vegas
Voters, including first time voters, were lined up before the doors opened at the voting center in a tent in the parking lot behind Dillard’s at Downtown Summerlin. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Election Day time off
Nevada companies are required to give employees one to three hours of paid time off on Election Day, depending on the distance between the place of work and a polling location. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris Speaks at UNLV Rally
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris speaks at a UNLV rally hosted by the Nevada State Democratic Party.
Early voting ends Friday in Clark County
The final day of early voting is Friday, Nov. 2. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6. Voting locations will stay open past their scheduled closing time so long as people are waiting in line to cast ballots. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President’s son visits Las Vegas in support of Republican candidates
Eric and Lara Trump show their support for U.S. Representative Cresent Hardy and other Republican candidates during a rally at the Nevada Republican Party’s Summerlin office.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like