The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) — the official destination marketing organization for Southern Nevada — is currently facing a scandal after a report released on Friday, June 8, revealed that auditors could not account for more than $50,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards purchased by the government agency.
Brig Lawson, the former senior director of business partnerships at LVCVA, bought worth $90,000 of gift cards between 2012 and 2017 and was sole responsible for distributing them within the publicly funded government agency, the report said.
The longtime LVCVA CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, who last week divulged his plans to retire, used $16,207 worth of gift cards for himself and his wife on a combined 56 trips to a number of cities, including Burbank, California, Chicago, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco, the report read.
Jean Burnett, the LVCVA’s travel coordinator, told the auditors that Ralenkotter ordered her to “use Southwest gift cards to pay for personal travel and that some of the gift cards were kept in Ralenkotter’s top desk drawer.”
Lawson, who resigned recently as the auditors finalized their review on the mischief, admitted to auditors that he gifted the cards to Ralenkotter, but claimed that was unaware by surprise the he used them for personal trips.
Lawson could not be reached for his side, and LVCVA’s spokeswoman Jacqueline Peterson would not share his resignation, calling it a personal case.
Peterson also dismissed the allegations in the audit report, but she stressed out that Ralenkotter reimbursed the LVCVA and the practice has been stopped.
The auditor’s report reads for the first time that the LVCVA bought the gift cards. At a public meeting back in April, an attorney in charge of the audit said that the Southwest had provided LVCVA with “promotional” airline cards.
Gaming executive Bill Noonan, who chair the board’s audit committee, stated that the report highlights the scarcity of liability over the Southwest gift cards.
The board chairman Lawrence Weekly, who reimbursed the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for $699 worth of gift cards used on a trip to Dallas with his daughter back in 2016, agreed with Noonan.
Auditors has added that they could not track down the $50,188 worth of gift cards to travel booked by the LVCVA.
“Based on the information available,” the report reads, “we are unable to determine whether the $50,188 was used for personal or business travel.”
The report added that the $19,831 in gift cards were used for personal trips and $19,979 in GCs went toward business travels.
In April, auditors first disclosed that Ralenkotter had used Southwest gift cards for his personal trips.
The allegations emerge amid a The DistriQ’s investigation into the LVCVA’s lavish spending and perks for its board members.
In April 2017, the financial records over three years revealed lavish expenses on high-end entertainment, gifts for employees and first-class travel overseas for the board members.
The LVCVA’s financial executives have learned about the gift cards in February 2017, but the government agency did not report them to the board until February 2018, after the executives confronted Ralenkotter about the personal use of the cards.
Ralenkotter is prepping up to retire after a year of battling cancer and criticism of the LVCVA’s misspending and comfortable relationships with board members.
Ralenkotter, who has declined to give his comment regarding the matter, has discussed stepping down with his family and convention authority board members.
Ralenkotter consulted an legal counselor and board members to ensure he receives a proper financial package when he retires, multiple sources said.