Ralenkotter sought police substation funds amid Metro probe of LVCVA

Rossi Ralenkotter, the former CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, pushed for $10 million in tourism funds for a police substation expansion while police were investigating the agency, records show.

Ralenkotter arranged a meeting with Sheriff Joe Lombardo to discuss the project after Ralenkotter became a target in the criminal investigation, which focused on the LVCVA’s misuse of agency-purchased Southwest Airlines gift cards, emails obtained by the Review-Journal show.

An audit that triggered the police investigation found that Ralenkotter as CEO used $17,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards on personal travel.

The Oct. 2 meeting raises concerns about potential conflicts of interest for Lombardo as police continue to pursue $50,000 in gift cards missing from the tax-funded LVCVA and possible charges against any of the targets.

Lombardo declined to comment.

Among the other meeting attendees at Metro’s headquarters was Ralenkotter’s successor, Steve Hill. Ralenkotter retired Aug. 31 under the weight of the gift card scandal but remains deeply involved with the agency as a consultant.

The substation project, which sits on Las Vegas Convention Center property, has not yet been presented to the LVCVA board, which is composed of local elected officials and business leaders.

“I think that there’s definitely a perception of impropriety when a potential target of an investigation is in meetings designed to offer funding to the investigative agency,” said Eve Hanan, a UNLV law school professor who specializes in criminal law.

Hanan said she was not familiar with the details of the Oct. 2 meeting.

“My larger concern is that Metro have in place some system for addressing a potential conflict like this,” she added. “They are our law enforcement agency and the public has to be assured that the law enforcement agency will investigate crime without concern for whether they can gain or lose funding for projects.”

Defense lawyer Thomas Pitaro said putting both Lombardo and Ralenkotter in a room to negotiate an agreement amid the ongoing investigation invites “criticism and suspicion” of the project.

“It doesn’t look right. It’s not transparent,” said Pitaro, a former part-time UNLV law professor.

Ralenkotter said in an interview that he did not consider the ethical ramifications of meeting with the sheriff during the police investigation.

“It never entered my mind,” he said. “I was trying to finalize the project so it could move forward.”

Ralenkotter said he wanted to bring people together to get a consensus on the architectural design of the substation plans so he could seek board approval and construction funds for the project. Police had spent $17,000 on a consulting team to draw up the plans, records show.

Ralenkotter, who receives $15,000 a month to consult with the LVCVA on top of his nearly $300,000 annual public pension, said he did nothing wrong in his handling of the Southwest Airlines gift cards. He repaid the convention authority for his personal trips and he publicly apologized, he said.

Hill, who took the reins of the LVCVA on Sept. 1, declined an interview. But in a statement, he said Ralenkotter attended the meeting with Lombardo because of his “historical knowledge” of the project.

“Since taking over as CEO in 2018, I have had the opportunity to evaluate the project and I am confident that it is an essential investment for the continued safety of our visitors and residents alike,” Hill said.

Commissioner not concerned

Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, who chairs the LVCVA board, said he is not bothered by the presence of Lombardo and Ralenkotter at the meeting.

“I have no problems if the meeting was strictly to talk about the substation expansion,” said Brown, who also is a member of the Metro Fiscal Affairs Committee, which oversees the police budget. “If the sheriff felt that there was a potential conflict, I think he would have chosen not to participate.”

Brown said he believes that Ralenkotter’s interest in the project long predated the meeting with Lombardo. That interest began as early as 2016, when the Nevada Legislature authorized a Clark County hotel room tax increase to pay for the $1.4 billion expansion of the convention center. The Legislature also authorized a Clark County sales tax increase to fund the hiring of additional police officers.

Ralenkotter said he recalls talking to Lombardo about accommodating the need for more officers at the substation after the legislation was approved. He said he was in the habit of updating the sheriff on the progress of the expansion project when he ran into him at public events.

This would not be the first time the LVCVA has used tourism funds for police. The agency built the substation in 2008 for $17 million and then leased it to police to help protect the resort corridor along the Strip. In July 2017, Ralenkotter persuaded the board to fund a counterterrorism analyst position for police for another five years. The board approved $781,000 for the extension.

Under Ralenkotter’s leadership, the LVCVA often provided tax dollars and resources meant for tourism to other public agencies. It gave land for the construction of a Clark County fire station at the convention center, partially bankrolled a presidential debate at UNLV and funded projects for McCarran International Airport and the Regional Transportation Commission.

The agency has a $251 million annual operating budget, mostly from hotel room taxes.

Police probe begins

Police and LVCVA executives started talking about the substation in February 2017, police and authority emails show. At about the same time, LVCVA financial officers discovered discrepancies in accounting for the Southwest Airlines gift cards.

Charles Hank, then a Metro deputy chief, sent an email to Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly about a conversation he had regarding the substation proposal with Ray Suppe, the LVCVA security chief. Hank said Suppe “floated the idea” with Ralenkotter, who was “open” to it but wanted more information.

Hank, now an assistant sheriff, said Suppe suggested it would be a good time for Lombardo to call Ralenkotter and let him know that police wanted his assistance with the project.

LVCVA emails show that Ralenkotter was directly involved in high-level discussions with police months later, after LVCVA executives learned about the criminal investigation on June 28. The emails do not show whether he participated in discussions before the investigation.

On the morning of June 28, detectives with the criminal intelligence section visited the convention authority’s executive offices seeking audit records that documented the mishandling of the Southwest Airlines gift cards.

Knowledgeable sources said detectives made it clear to LVCVA legal counsel Luke Puschnig and Chief Financial Officer Ed Finger on June 28 that Ralenkotter was one of their targets. Another target was Brig Lawson, the senior director of business partnerships who bought the airline gift cards for the agency. Lawson, who was forced to resign, could not be reached for comment.

In the meantime, Terry Miller, the head of the company overseeing the convention center expansion, had updated Ralenkotter on the substation project.

Miller told Ralenkotter in a June 5 email that he negotiated a drop in the construction price from $13 million to $10 million. He said the plan was to seek the board’s approval by the end of this month and begin construction toward the end of 2019.

“At this time, we will await your direction regarding the next steps,” Miller wrote Ralenkotter.

Miller did not respond to a request for comment.

On July 2, four days after police first showed up at the authority’s offices, Ralenkotter obtained the office and cellphone numbers of both Lombardo and attorney Terry Coffing, whose firm represents the Police Department in civil cases, emails show. Then, on July 9, the day the Review-Journal ran a story publicly disclosing the police investigation, Ralenkotter got the phone number of former Sheriff Bill Young, who is Lombardo’s close friend and mentor.

Coffing, who ended up representing Ralenkotter in the investigation, declined to comment. Young did not respond to a request for an interview.

Ralenkotter said he learned about the police visit on June 29, but he did not recall why he wanted the phone numbers of the three men.

Odd letter

At the end of July, emails show, Ralenkotter sought a formal meeting with Lombardo to discuss the substation project. By then, Ralenkotter had enlisted the help of Coffing to negotiate his retirement agreement and consulting contract with the LVCVA board. Ralenkotter wanted to meet with Lombardo on Aug. 15, two weeks before he planned to step down, but the meeting did not occur until Oct. 2.

However, days before the board approved a $455,000 retirement deal for Ralenkotter on Aug. 14, Las Vegas police Deputy Chief Shawn Andersen, who oversees the department’s intelligence unit, did something unusual. He gave then-board Chairman Lawrence Weekly a letter that said police had not found evidence of wrongdoing by Ralenkotter “at this time.”

The investigation had been active for six weeks, but police had done little work other than to review the results of the board-ordered audit.

Defense lawyer Craig Drummond said he found it odd that police publicly talked about a case that had not been closed or submitted to the district attorney’s office for prosecution.

“Why did Metro feel the need to do that in this situation?” Drummond asked. “Normally, they tell me it’s an active case and we’re not going to comment on it.”

The day after the Oct. 2 meeting, Terry Miller sent an email to Luke Puschnig informing him that the discussions focused on the budget and construction schedule for the substation remodeling project.

Miller said Hill gave him the “go ahead” to move forward with taking the proposal to the LVCVA board.

As of January, Ralenkotter, working as a consultant, was still pushing for the expansion of the substation.

Suppe, the LVCVA security chief, informed Miller in a Jan. 4 email that both Ralenkotter and a top police official called him that day asking for an update on the expansion plans.

Ralenkotter wanted to know what month the board would hear the proposal.

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.

News Videos
Henderson fails to investigate the drug overdose death of one of its officers
Henderson Police Department's internal affairs did not investigate the 2014 drug overdose death of an officer. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Syphilis Awareness Day
Dr. Joe Iser, District Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, discusses the effects and issues with syphilis in the Las Vegas community on April 16, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas diocese IDs 33 ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse
The Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas released a list on Friday of 33 “credibly accused” of sexual abuse who at some point served in the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CCSD Arbor View meeting
The Clark County School Board hears from the public about racial tensions at Arbor View High School on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Amelia Park-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Parents of autistic student battle Clark County School District
Joshua and Britten Wahrer, parents of a special education student, are battling the Clark County School District for the right to equip their son with a monitoring device. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Metro homeless outreach a shift in strategy
Lt. Joe Sobrio discusses the new homeless outreach team for Metro. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prayer for Opportunity Scholarships
Las Vegas students and adults hold a prayer meeting about the Opportunity Scholarship program on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Solar scams on the rise in Nevada
As Nevada’s solar industry has made a resurgence, solar scammers have followed suit.
Clark County schools and the late bus issue
Year after year, late or no-show buses in the Clark County School District draw the ire of parents and students alike. One year the problem even prompted a parent to crack a school bus window in frustration over a late drop-off. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 southbound congested near Primm Sunday afternoon
Drivers heading toward California on Interstate 15 should expect heavy traffic and a 13-mile backup Sunday afternoon.
Learning lifesaving skills in advance of fire season
Students and firefighters attend a training session at Fire Station 80 in Blue Diamond, Saturday, March 30, 2019. The training session helps volunteer firefighters obtain necessary annual certification to work wild fires.
Car restoration behind prison walls
Inmates share their experiences working for the Southern Desert Correctional Center auto body shop in Indian Springs while learning valuable skills.
Parent remembers Las Vegas boy killed by car
People visit a memorial at the intersection of South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue at at Faiss Park Wednesday, March 27, 2019, where Jonathan Smith, 12, of Las Vegas, died after he was struck while crossing Fort Apache Monday. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Couple left with surprise medical bills after visit to the hospital
Michael Pistiner took his wife, Marta Menendez-Pistiner, to the ER in January after she fainted twice and appeared to be having a seizure. Despite paying $856 monthly for health insurance, the two, self-employed musicians, were stuck with more than $5,700 in hospital and doctor bills after than hour-and-a-half visit. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Las Vegas police brief the media on fatal crash
Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Nick Farese addresses the media about a car accident at South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue that left one minor dead and one hospitalized on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Mike Shoro/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Arbor View parent talks about racial issues at the school
Lawanna Calhoun, a former Arbor View parent, talks about the state of the school. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jim Foley talks about 30 years of living HIV-positive
Jim Foley, who was diagnosed as HIV positive 30 years ago, talks at his home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traffic Slows to a Crawl on I-15S Near Primm
Traffic slowed to a crawl around 2:30p Sunday, on I-15S near Primm, Nevada.
Homeless residents speak about safety
The homeless residents living at the corner of Owens Ave. and Main St. reflect on how they feel about their safety after two homeless men died, one was hit crossing the street and another was beat to death by another homeless man. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
CCSD Superintendent address alleged racially motivated threats at Arbor View
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara gives update on alleged racially motivated threats against Arbor View High School, and says such threats will not be tolerated. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Super Bloom Near Lake Elsinore, California
Crowds packed the hills near Lake Elsinore on Saturday to capture a rare selfie amidst the super bloom of poppies turning the landscape purple. The super bloom was caused by the larger rainfall this year. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fiery accident in Las Vegas
A three-car accident on Spring Mountain Road around 6:30 pm on Monday night
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Stardust implosion anniversary
Twelve years ago today, the Stardust Resort and Casino was imploded. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Lawsuits filed against security contractors at Nevada National Security Site
Two lawsuits were filed today against the current and former government security contractors for the Nevada National Security Site, one on behalf of Jennifer Glover who alleges sexual discrimination and assault and the other on behalf of Gus Redding who alleges retaliation after he gave statements supporting Glover’s claims. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New housing option helps Las Vegas moms keep kids while kicking drugs
WestCare Nevada Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas has added a new transitional housing wing for women who have completed the inpatient treatment at the behavioral health nonprofit to help them as they go through outpatient treatment, shore up their finances and prepare to secure long-term housing. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Teenager in critical condition after being struck by an SUV in Henderson
Authorities were called about 2:45 p.m. to the scene in the 2100 block of Olympic Avenue, near Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road. The teenager was taken to University Medical Center in critical condition. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Water Question Part 3: Conservation loves a crisis
Future growth in the Las Vegas Valley will rest almost entirely on the community’s ability to conserve its finite share of the Colorado River.
The Water Question Part 7: How much can we grow?
Many experts agree that Southern Nevada can continue to grow, so long as residents are willing to do what needs to be done to stretch our crucial resource as far as it will go.
The Water Question Part 6: How many people can Southern Nevada’s water sustain?
The number can swing wildly depending on a host of variables, including the community’s rates of growth, conservation efforts and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
Business Videos
Boxabl official explains the building concept
Boxabl business development manager Galiano Tiramani shows off a room built by his company. (Blake Apgar/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Convention Center expansion taking shape
Renderings and actual footage show how the Las Vegas Convention Center is evolving.
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at Las Vegas convention
Former Starbucks CEO and potential presidential candidate Howard Schultz spoke at the Epicor Insights user conference at Mandalay Bay Convention Center Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Drew Las Vegas to open in the second quarter of 2022
The 67-story Drew Las Vegas is slated to open in the second quarter of 2022 at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NAB Day 1 (Time Lapse)
NAB kicked off at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, April 8, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
National Association of Broadcasters Show shows 1mm thick 8K TV with 22.2 channel digital sound
Japan’s NHK Science & Technology Research Laboratories booth featured a 1mm thick 8K TV system used in conjunction with a 22.2 channel digital sound system at the National Association of Broadcasters Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Nevada shoppers react to Smith’s no longer accepting Visa credit cards
On March 1, Smith’s announced that it would no longer be accepting Visa credit cards at any of its 142 supermarkets, including the 45 in Nevada.
Massachusetts Gaming Commission asks how long Wynn executives knew about misconduct
Business reporter Rick Velotta gives an update on the adjudicatory hearing on the suitability of Wynn Resorts to retain its gaming license in Massachusetts.
Henderson app developer part of Startup in Residence
Henderson based developers of the app On Point Barricade are taking part in Startup in Residence, a North America program dedicated to pairing tech companies with governments. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sam's Town employees and customers talk of their love for the iconic casino
Longtime Sam's Town employees and customers love each other and love their casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas apartments rents
Las Vegas’ apartment market has accelerated in recent years. Developers are packing the suburbs with projects, landlords are on a buying spree, and tenants have filled buildings.
William Boyd talks about the birth of Sam's Town
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of Sam's Town, William Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming and son of hotel namesake Sam Boyd, talks about how the casino became one of the first local properties in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
High Roller observation wheel turns five
The world’s tallest observation wheel celebrates it’s fifth year on Sunday, March 31, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Escape Room Industry Growing In Las Vegas
Escapology employees discuss the growing escape room industry in the U.S. and Las Vegas. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Impact of parking fees on visiting the Las Vegas Strip
There are no data showing a relationship between Strip resort and parking fees and the number of out-of-state visitors to Las Vegas. But there are data showing a relationship between Strip parking fees and the number of local visitors to the the Strip. ‘’As a local, I find myself picking hotels I visit for dinner or entertainment, based on whether they charge for parking or not,”’ said David Perisset, the owner of Exotics Racing. ‘’It is not a matter of money, more of principle.’’ A 2018 survey by the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance found 36.9 percent of Clark County residents reported avoiding parking at Strip casinos that charge for parking. 29.1 percent reported avoiding using any services from a Strip casino that charges for parking.
MGM's sports betting deals
MGM Resorts International signed a sports betting sponsorship agreement with the NBA in July It was the first professional sports league to have official ties with a legal sports betting house. The deal came just two months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a law prohibiting sports betting in most states. In October, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the NHL. In November, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the MLB. Financial terms of Tuesday’s deal and earlier partnerships have not been announced.
Faraday puts Las Vegas land on the market
Nearly two years after Faraday Future bailed on its North Las Vegas auto factory, the company has put its land up for sale. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
El Cortez owner Kenny Epstein on running the iconic property
Kenny Epstein, owner of the El Cortez Hotel in downtown Las Vegas, talks about Jackie Gaughan mentorship and answers rumors about bodies in the basement at the mob-era casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
LVCVA recommends construction of underground people mover
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced the recommendation for an underground people mover for the convention center. The system would have the potential to expand and connect Downtown and the resort corridor all the way to McCarran. (Michael Quine/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LVCVA/Boring Company Press Conference
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced a collaboration with Elon Musk's The Boring Company to develop and operate an autonomous people mover system for the Las Vegas Convention Center District.
International Pizza Expo includes green and gluten free
The International Pizza Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center included companies focused on vegan and gluten free, and plant-based pizza boxes. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
International Pizza Expo kicks off in Las Vegas
The first day of the International Pizza Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center is everything Pizza. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
T-Mobile program aids guests with sensory needs
A program at T-Mobile Arena is designed to provide a more sensory friendly experience for guests.
Photo Booth Expo
Danielle May talks about how Simple Booth transformed her Volkswagen bus into a business.
Nevada Gaming Commission's highest fines
The highest fines assessed by the Nevada Gaming Commission, according to commission Chairman Tony Alamo: 1) Wynn Resorts Ltd., $20 million, 2019 2) CG Technology (then known as Cantor G&W Holdings), $5.5 million, 2014 3) The Mirage, $5 million ($3 million fine, $2 million compensatory payment), 2003 4) Stardust, $3 million, 1985 5) Santa Fe Station, $2.2 million ($1.5 million fine, $700,000 compensatory payment), 2005 6) Las Vegas Sands, $2 million, 2016 7) CG Technology, $1.75 million, 2018 8) CG Technology, $1.5 million (also $25,000 in escrow for underpaid patrons), 2016 9) Caesars Entertainment, $1.5 million, 2015 10) Imperial Palace, $1.5 million, 1989 11) Peppermill Casinos, $1 million, 2014
Tiny Pipe Home vs Shipping Crate
A Tiny pipe home was displayed at the International Builders Show this week in Las Vegas.
Auto repair shortage affects Las Vegas
The auto repair industry is facing a national shortage of workers.
Franchising industry booming
Experts say Las Vegas is a hotbed for the franchise industry.
Africa Love owner talks about his store in Las Vegas
Mara Diakhate, owner of Africa Love, gift and decor store, talks about his store in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Developer gets approval to build homes at Bonnie Springs
The Clark County Planning Commission has approved a plan to build 20 homes on the site of Bonnie Springs Ranch. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing