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Prosecutors oppose effort to unseal LVCVA search warrant documents

Updated June 20, 2019 - 2:12 pm

Prosecutors plan to oppose the Review-Journal’s push to unseal documents supporting a search warrant executed by police at the offices of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Jay P. Raman said in court Thursday that he needed time to file opposition papers, prompting Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Harmony Letizia to put off a hearing on the matter until July 17.

Raman declined to explain in court and afterward why the district attorney’s office is fighting the effort to unseal the search warrant documents, which are part of a criminal investigation into the misuse of airline gift cards at the tax-funded LVCVA.

Defense lawyer Chris Oram, who is representing former LVCVA executive Brig Lawson in the case, told Letizia that he supports making public the documents.

Review-Journal lawyer Alina Shell said afterward that she was baffled by the district attorney’s response.

“I’m surprised that they’re opposing this because so much of the case already is part of the public record,” Shell said.

Las Vegas police executed the search warrant on March 27 looking for evidence that LVCVA executives mishandled $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards bought by the tourism agency between 2012 and 2017.

That same day, police arrested Lawson, alleging that he was at the center of a conspiracy to steal the Southwest gift cards. Police have not yet filed formal charges against Lawson, who is out of custody. Oram contends that Lawson did nothing wrong.

The high-profile investigation is being conducted by the Metropolitan Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Section, which handles sensitive public corruption cases.

The Review-Journal filed court papers on Monday seeking public disclosure of a police affidavit that provided probable cause for the search warrant and exhibits that list the names of people who used the gift cards.

Longtime CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, who retired in August under the weight of the police investigation, used $17,000 in gift cards on personal travel. Before he stepped down last August with a $455,000 financial package, Ralenkotter reimbursed the LVCVA for the gift cards and apologized for his conduct. But he denied criminal wrongdoing and remains involved with the authority, earning $15,000 a month as a consultant.

Lawson, former executive director of business partnerships for the LVCVA, resigned in May 2018 as auditors were preparing to disclose that they could not account for more than $50,000 worth of cards. Police have since alleged that he concealed the gift card purchases in agency financial records and distributed them for his own personal gain.

Former Chief Marketing Officer Cathy Tull, who resigned in April, used nearly $6,000 in Southwest gift cards on personal travel mostly for her family, a police report alleges.

Her Carson City lawyer, Mike Pavlakis, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

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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