Former Las Vegas Convention Executive Rossi Ralenkotter Charged With Felonies Over Gift Card Scandal
Posted on: September 10, 2019, 08:26h.
Last updated on: September 10, 2019, 01:56h.
The former Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) chief executive faces two felony charges for his alleged role in a scandal involving the improper distribution of $90,000 worth of Southwest gift cards.
Rossi Ralenkotter served as CEO of the LVCVA from 2004 through August 2018. In a seven-count complaint, prosecutors have charged him with theft and misconduct of a public officer. The 72-year-old is still being paid by the city tourism agency to the tune of $15,000 a month to serve as a consultant.
Prosecutors say Ralenkotter, his former CMO Cathy Tull, and ex-LVCVA director of business Brig Lawson orchestrated a scheme where they purchased $90,000 worth of Southwest gift cards with tax money, and used the credits largely for personal travel.
Investigators allege Lawson convinced a Southwest marketing executive to conceal the gift card purchases as “promotions” on invoices between 2012 and 2017. In return, the Southwest exec – Eric Woodson – was given lavish dinners in Las Vegas, concert and show tickets, and comped hotel rooms.
Tull, Lawson, and Woodson all additionally face charges.
The LV Criminal Defense law firm said the felony theft and misconduct of a public officer charges are serious offenses where the individual, if found guilty, “could face jail time, large fines, and other harsh penalties.”
Ralenkotter was in court this morning, and is scheduled to be back in two weeks for a preliminary hearing.
Founded in 1955 and tasked with promoting tourism, conventions, meetings, and special events in Southern Nevada, the LVCVA is primarily funded through hotel room taxes incurred in Clark County and its incorporated cities: Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder, and Mesquite. The projected room tax for the 2020 fiscal year is roughly $813 million.
The old adage of “spend money to make money” is embraced by the LVCVA. Agency authorities have defended their lavish spending as necessary to woo major events into coming to Las Vegas.
But the gift card scandal isn’t the LVCVA’s only recent black eye. In a 2017 expose, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the agency spent $700,000 on alcohol and $85,000 on adult entertainment over a three-year period.
As Casino.org reported, “Even at the Strip’s escalated liquor prices – say $15 a drink – that $700,000 served up 15,555 drinks a year, all paid with tax money.”
“You’ve got to give something to get something,” LVCVA board member and Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said in 2017. Weekly took a personal trip to Dallas in 2016 with his daughter on a $1,400 Southwest gift card. He later returned the money and apologized for his actions as the gift card scandal emerged.
Despite the controversies during the latter part of his tenure, Ralenkotter was celebrated by the agency he oversaw for nearly 15 years. The former tourism executive is collecting a nearly $300,000 annual state pension, plus his $15,000 a month consultant fee.
Prior to his retirement, the LVCVA gave him a one-time bonus of $208,000 in what was described as a “performance-based” reward. That was in addition to his $440,000 base salary.
In 2017, Ralenkotter was Nevada’s third-highest paid state employee, behind only two surgeons at UNLV. The governor makes around $150,000 a year, and state legislator compensation per session day is less than $300.
Ralenkotter has denied any wrongdoing during his LVCVA tenure.