When it comes to misusing taxpayer funds, what happens in the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, shouldn’t stay in the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. That’s why the news about a police investigation is welcome.
As the Review-Journal’s investigative team exposed last year, convention authority staff and board members have, at times, treated tax dollars like a personal slush fund. Travel junkets, $300 steaks and show tickets were commonplace. Most elected officials preferred to ignore the issue.
As the Review-Journal kept digging, LVCVA board member and audit committee chair Bill Noonan ordered an independent audit into travel-card use by authority staff. That audit uncovered major issues. Former LVCVA senior director of business partnerships, Brig Lawson, had worked with Southwest Airlines to submit fraudulent billings that hid the purchase of gift cards worth tens of thousands of dollars.
From 2012 to 2017, the authority paid for $90,000 in gift cards. Employees used $20,000 for business purposes, but they also used another $20,000 for personal travel. This included $16,000 for personal flights for CEO Rossi Ralenkotter and his wife. Clark County Commissioner and LVCVA chair Lawrence Weekly used $700 in cards to pay for a flight with his daughter. The authority can’t account for the other $50,000 and closed the audit after claims that it would cost more than that to determine who used the other cards.
The whole thing demanded a police investigation. Last week, the Review-Journal reported that Metro has begun to poke around. Good.
“It’s bothersome, but when the law gets involved, you want to do the right thing,” said Mr. Weekly. “We’re just making sure that everybody answers whatever questions that need to be answered.”
What’s really bothersome in the lackadaisical attitude that some authority officials have shown toward the repeated misuses of government funds. And there are plenty of questions that demand answers. Start with the missing $50,000 in cards. The authority can’t make Southwest search its computer system to determine who used those cards, but the police can and should. Connecting the electronic dots shouldn’t take long, and taxpayers deserve a full accounting for that money.
Mr. Lawson has since resigned, but the authorities should thoroughly review the behavior of all involved, including Mr. Ralenkotter and Mr. Weekly. Both men have reimbursed the authority — after getting caught — but that shouldn’t make them immune to the consequences of their actions.
Reports involving the waste and abuse of taxpayer funds deserve to be taken seriously in the name of transparency and accountability. Government officials aren’t above the law, even if they work for the LVCVA. Taxpayers deserve a full accounting of the Metro probe.