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Nevada moving ahead with ethics complaint against former LVCVA exec

Updated June 10, 2019 - 9:37 pm

The Nevada Commission on Ethics has been given the green light to move forward with a complaint against another longtime Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority executive accused of using airline gift cards bought by the tourism agency for personal travel.

In an order filed late Monday, a special review panel concluded there is “credible evidence” for the commission to determine whether Cathy Tull, the LVCVA’s former chief marketing officer, abused her position of public trust.

Yvonne M. Nevarez-Goodson, the Ethics Commission’s executive director, declined to comment on the allegations but said the panel has 60 days to make a decision and could hold a public hearing.

Tull, who had been at the LVCVA for 14 years, resigned abruptly in April amid separate investigations by the Metropolitan Police Department, Ethics Commission and the Review-Journal into misspending of public funds at the agency.

Tull and her Carson City lawyer, Mike Pavlakis, could not be reached for comment late Monday.

LVCVA spokeswoman Lori Nelson-Kraft said in a statement that she could not comment because of the ongoing police and ethics investigations. But she added, “We will assist and cooperate with any requests as needed by the Nevada Commission on Ethics.”

Both the police and ethics investigations are focusing on the misuse of $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards purchased by the LVCVA between 2012 and 2017. Auditors could not account for more than $50,000 of the cards.

Police revealed this year that Tull used nearly $6,000 in Southwest cards on 18 flights, mostly for her former husband and two sons. She paid back the agency before she left, officials said.

Former CEO Rossi Ralenkotter retired last August with a $455,000 financial package amid allegations he used $17,000 in Southwest gift cards on personal travel. He reimbursed the agency for the gift cards but denied criminal wrongdoing. The LVCVA is currently paying Ralenkotter $15,000 a month as a consultant.

Both Ralenkotter and another former LVCVA executive, Brig Lawson, are considered central figures in the police investigation. Lawson, the former director of business partnerships, resigned in May 2018 as auditors were about to reveal that he hid the purchase of the Southwest Airlines gift cards in LVCVA financial records. His lawyers have denied wrongdoing on his behalf.

Both Ralenkotter and Lawson are also subjects of the ethics investigation.

In January, Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly struck a deal with the Ethics Commission to pay $2,400 in fines for using Southwest gift cards on a personal trip to Dallas with his daughter while he chaired the LVCVA board. He avoided a public hearing by agreeing to the fines but acknowledged in the agreement that he violated the state ethics law.

Police arrested Lawson in March on a theft charge after officers searched the LVCVA’s offices, seizing seven years of electronic records related to the Southwest gift cards. Prosecutors have until August to file a formal criminal complaint against him.

Tull, a Ralenkotter confidante, resigned just two days after a Review-Journal story was published in the newspaper exposing her role in helping Ralenkotter obtain free British Airways upgrades for his wife and daughter. Tull also received upgrades for her then-husband and sister, records show.

LVCVA staff gave the British Airways executive who arranged the upgrades thousands of dollars worth of meals and show tickets on the Strip at taxpayer expense, records show.

British Airways has been conducting an internal investigation related to the upgrades.

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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