Former Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Exec Arrested in Alleged Gift Card Scheme

Posted on: March 29, 2019, 08:30h. 

Last updated on: March 29, 2019, 08:30h.

Brig Lawson, the former Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) director of business, has been arrested on a felony theft charge in connection to an ongoing investigation into the alleged misuse of airline gift cards at the tax-funded agency.

Las Vegas convention LVCVA gift card
Brig Lawson has been arrested by police for his alleged involvement with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s illegal use of Southwest airline credits. (Image: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police/Casino.org)

Las Vegas Justice Court records show that Lawson was apprehended and then later released on a $10,000 bond. According to the Las Vegas Defense Group law firm, a felony theft conviction of valuables $3,500 or more carries a potential penalty of one to 10 years in Nevada prison, restitution of payments, and up to a $10,000 fine.

Metro Police began a probe into the LVCVA roughly nine months ago. Investigators say Lawson purchased $90,000 in Southwest gift cards between 2012 and 2017, but an audit of the public organization concluded that $50,000 went missing and unaccounted for.

Former LVCVA CEO Rossi Ralenkotter admitted to using $17,000 in Southwest gift cards for personal travel with his wife. He announced his resignation during the 2017 audit, and reimbursed the agency.

This week, Metro Police executed a search warrant at the LVCVA offices. Detectives copied records relating to the gift cards, and were seen at the agency for more than five hours.

Money Takes Flight

The agency tasked with promoting travel and business to Las Vegas has been on the defensive in recent years regarding its spending. The Las Vegas Review-Journal exposed in 2017 that the LVCVA spent $700,000 on alcohol and $85,000 on showgirls and adult entertainment in a three-year period.

Even at the Strip’s escalated liquor prices – say $15 for a drink – that $700,000 served up 15,555 drinks a year, all paid with tax money.

Ralenkotter made $768,000 in salary, bonuses, and benefits in 2016. Despite the public criticism, the LVCVA approved a raise for him the next year. When he stepped down into retirement, the agency approved a $455,000 retirement package.

The retirement deal shows that the board is nothing more than a club for cronies,” said Michael Schaus, a spokesman for the conservative watchdog group Nevada Policy Research Institute.

“The board had absolutely no obligation to offer any sort of deal, and their decision to use taxpayer money to further enrich someone that has clearly violated the public trust in such an obvious way shows just how unserious the board is about even attempting to be responsible stewards of public dollars,” Schaus concluded.

Spend It to Make It

The LVCVA is primarily funded through hotel occupancy taxes generated in Clark County.

In 2017, 33.2 percent of every hotel tax dollar was directed into the authority’s coffers. That’s more than the Clark County School District (13.1 percent) and Nevada Public School Fund (24.3 percent) receive from the hotel tax.

The agency argues the return on the tax money is exceptional. The LVCVA says much of its budget is used to market and woo convention bookers to Las Vegas.

“You’ve got to give something to get something,” ex-LVCVA Chairman Lawrence Weekly said in 2017. Weekly agreed to pay a $2,400 fine earlier this year for taking a personal trip with the airline gift cards.

The authority’s operating budget for 2019 is $251 million.