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Sources: LVCVA’s marketing chief resigned without separation package

The top marketing officer for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority resigned under a cloud this week without a financial separation agreement, knowledgeable sources said.

Cathy Tull left abruptly on Tuesday after a 14-year stint amid investigations by the Metropolitan Police Department and the Review-Journal into the public agency’s misspending.

Convention authority officials refused to answer questions Friday about the circumstances that led to Tull’s resignation and why she did not get separation pay. Earlier in the week, CEO Steve Hill praised her in a statement to employees for helping “establish the LVCVA as the world’s top destination marketing organization.”

A knowledgeable source confirmed that Tull is entitled to an unknown amount of money for unused vacation time.

Tull, who could not be reached for comment, was treated differently than two key targets of the police investigation, former CEO Rossi Ralenkotter and ex-business partnerships director Brig Lawson. Both men got separation agreements.

The LVCVA board approved a $455,000 retirement package for Ralenkotter in August that included a $53,000 separation payment, $132,000 performance bonus and $270,000 consulting contract with the agency. The near-unanimous vote occurred even though the board knew Ralenkotter was under investigation for using $17,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards bought by the agency for personal travel. Ralenkotter, who ran the authority for 14 years, paid back the money and denied wrongdoing.

Lawson’s package

When Lawson was forced to resign at the end of May, the LVCVA gave him a financial package worth more than $100,000. That included $36,672 in severance, $59,715 of accrued vacation pay and up to $12,000 of monthly health insurance coverage for a year, records obtained by the Review-Journal show.

As part of the deal, the agency issued a standard announcement to employees thanking Lawson for his 11 years of service.

Barbara Bolender, the authority’s chief people officer, sent an email on May 31 to Lawson’s employment lawyer asking if Lawson was “comfortable” with that notice.

“In my opinion, it’s more of a red flag if we don’t send it, but I will defer to his preference,” she wrote.

Less than two weeks later, auditors hired by the LVCVA board disclosed in a report that Lawson hid the purchase of $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards between 2012 and 2017. Police last month filed court documents placing Lawson at the center of an alleged “conspiracy” to steal the cards.

Auditors could not account for more than $50,000 in Southwest gift cards because the agency did not keep records to track them. With the help of Southwest Airlines, police identified a majority of the people who used the cards, but the company told detectives it only retained records of the cards dating to 2014.

Lawson’s defense lawyer, Russell Marsh, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Swirling allegations

Tull was a key member of Ralenkotter’s administration, which has been the subject of a two-year Review-Journal investigation that uncovered excessive spending of taxpayer funds used to attract tourists and lax accounting of gifts handed out to employees and board members.

Her departure came 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.

Convention authority officials would not provide the latest salary figures for Tull. As of 2017, Tull earned nearly $366,000 in annual pay and benefits, records show.

Last month, Tull was named in the growing criminal investigation into the theft of Southwest Airlines gift cards.

She was identified in a police report as using nearly $6,000 in cards on 18 flights, mostly for her husband and two sons. Tull recently reimbursed the tourism agency, spokeswoman Jackie Dennis said this week.

Dennis also said the convention authority intends to seek “restitution” from Lawson and his longtime partner, Phil Reynolds. Police allege Reynolds, an entertainment manager and booking agent who once had a contract with the LVCVA, purchased 29 flights with more than $9,200 in Southwest cards.

But agency officials on Friday would not explain how they planned to get restitution and how much money they would seek.

Lawson was arrested last month on a felony theft charge after police searched the LVCVA’s offices, seizing seven years of electronic records related to the gift cards. He has an initial appearance in Las Vegas Justice Court on April 30.

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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