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Ex-GSA official indicted in M Resort conference

WASHINGTON — Jeffrey Neely, a former high-ranking General Services Administration official who organized the agency’s extravagant 2010 regional conference at the M Resort in Henderson, was indicted on fraud charges by a federal grand jury Thursday.

Neely was charged with falsifying documents in connection with his attendance at the lavish gathering from Oct. 25 to Oct. 29, 2010, and with submitting a false reimbursement claim for an earlier trip to the M Resort in March 2010.

He also is accused of seeking improper reimbursement for travel to Cambria, Calif., and Long Beach, Calif., in June 2010, and for airfare between Guam and Saipan in February 2012.

Each of the five charges handed down by a grand jury in San Francisco is punishable by five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Neely was summoned to appear in court on Oct. 20.

Neely, 59, was a San Francisco-based regional commissioner and acting regional administrator for the GSA, the federal property agency. He was organizer of the Western Regions Conference, an $822,751 training event for 300 GSA employees that became a poster child for government excess when it was exposed by auditors in 2012.

The resulting scandal also contributed to the soiling of Las Vegas and other resort cities as federal conference destinations. A USA Today analysis late last year showed contracts for hotel rooms were down 81 percent and the government spent just $92,736 on hotel rooms in Las Vegas in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2013. That was down from $2.5 million in 2010.

The GSA inspector general found numerous violations of federal travel and spending rules at the Henderson conference, and referred its findings to the Department of Justice. In April 2012, Neely cited his Fifth Amendment rights in declining to testify before Congress about the conference. He left the GSA later that year and now lives in Gardnerville, Nev.

Videos of the event showed the agency hired a clown and a mindreader to entertain conference-goers, while GSA staffers joked about government waste and made cracks about members of Congress.

Spending included $44 per-person breakfasts, and catering for three semi-private in-room parties. Commemorative coins costing a total of $6,000 were handed out to attendees and $75,000 was spent on a team-building exercise building bicycles that were later donated to a Las Vegas youth group.

A widely circulated image of Neely sitting in a tub in a high-rise room overlooking the Las Vegas Valley, several wine glasses to the side, came to signify the event and further inflamed anger on Capitol Hill. The scandal prompted the resignation of GSA Administrator Martha Johnson. Two of her deputies were fired.

The publicity surrounding the GSA conference led inspectors to scrutinize conference spending in other agencies, and resulted in White House directives to cut travel spending 30 percent from 2010 levels.

Audits turned up questions surrounding a $4.1 million Internal Revenue Service conference in Anaheim, Calif., in 2010 that included agency workers performing in a Star Trek spoof video, and two human resources conferences totaling $6.1 million the Department of Veterans Affairs held in 2011 in Orlando.

White House officials questioned by Congress at a hearing in January said there was no administrationwide directive discouraging travel to resort cities. However, lawmakers and tourism leaders in Las Vegas say there have been such rules in some agencies and general fears that have led to informal blacklists in others.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.

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