Las Vegas police officers arrested former Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority executive Brig Lawson, who had served as director of business partnerships for the organization, and executed a search warrant yesterday to gather electronic records from the convention center offices of the organization. The actions were part of an ongoing investigation into the misuse of Southwest Airlines gift cards by LVCVA employees and board members for personal travel. Lawson is now out on bail, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Yesterday's actions were the first visible signs since last year that the investigation was ongoing. "The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is currently in the Las Vegas Convention Center building," said LVCVA CEO and president Steve Hill in a statement yesterday evening. "Their presence is in conjunction with a Southwest Airlines gift-card audit, and we are cooperating with all LVMPD requests. We look forward to a swift resolution of this matter so that we can continue to focus on our mission of bringing millions of visitors annually to our destination."
Some LVCVA execs, including former LVCVA CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, admitted last year to using gift cards for personal travel after concerns about the matter surfaced. Ralenkotter publicly apologized and reimbursed $17,000 to the agency. Lawson resigned from the agency last May, after it became evident he had hidden the purchase of more than $90,000 in Southwest gift cards over a five-year period.
As of June 2018, auditors still were unable to account for about $50,000 worth of gift cards, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Hill took over the top spot at the LVCVA last September, following Ralenkotter's retirement. Ralenkotter served as president and CEO of the organization since 2004, a legendary figure in Las Vegas destination management who was credited with leading the marketing campaign that produced the catchphrase "What happens here, stays here." Ralenkotter had battled health issues in recent years. Although he had been a subject of the gift-card investigation and he admitted mistakenly using some cards for personal travel, he has not been officially accused of illegal wrongdoing.
According to the Review-Journal, the Nevada Commission on Ethics launched a separate investigation into the misuse of the gift cards. The commission has already fined Clark County commissioner Lawrence Weekly and continues to investigate Ralenkotter and Lawson.
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. The Sands Expo & Convention Center, which is operated by Las Vegas Sands Corp., competes with the LVCVA-operated Las Vegas Convention Center.