Updated September 8, 2020 - 1:23 pm
Another former top tourism official cut a deal Tuesday in the criminal case stemming from the misuse of Southwest Airlines gift cards bought by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Cathy Tull, 53, the former chief marketing officer for the tax-funded agency, pleaded no contest in court through her lawyer to a misdemeanor charge of “other violations by officers.”
Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Harmony Letizia ordered her to pay a $500 fine, as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Tull was not in court for the plea. “She didn’t do anything that was unusual,” her lawyer Paola Armeni said afterwards. “She didn’t need to appear today. The state statute makes that clear.”
Tull’s deal follows a similar one Clark County prosecutors gave Rossi Ralenkotter, the retired CEO of the convention authority, last month. Ralenkotter, 73, pleaded no contest to the same misdemeanor and agreed to pay a $1,000 fine.
Both Ralenkotter and Tull had been facing two felony charges, theft and misconduct by a public officer, which could have drawn prison sentences.
By pleading no contest to misdemeanors, they did not admit guilt but acknowledged prosecutors may have enough evidence to convict them at trial.
One other former LVCVA executive, Director of Business Partnerships Brig Lawson, is still facing felony charges, but his case was continued until Oct. 12 while he negotiates a plea agreement. Lawson is also facing a state ethics investigation.
The felony case against the fourth defendant, former Southwest Airlines marketing executive Eric Woodson, was dismissed Tuesday at the request of Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Scow, who declined comment outside the courtroom.
Woodson was alleged to have helped Lawson hide some of the LVCVA’s $90,000 in Southwest gift card purchases in promotional invoices.
Ralenkotter appeared twice in court in the year after the charges were filed in the high-profile criminal case, but Tull never spent a day in court.
Neither Tull nor Ralenkotter were arrested or booked into the Clark County Detention Center after they were charged. Both were allowed to remain free and did not have to submit to customary fingerprinting and “mug shots.”
Two former prosecutors who are now defense lawyers questioned last month whether Ralenkotter’s plea deal harmed the public’s confidence in the justice system. One called it a “sweetheart deal.”
District Attorney Steve Wolfson refused to discuss Ralenkotter’s plea.
Ralenkotter’s access to large sums of public tourism dollars and his relationships with the major casinos on the Strip made him one of the most powerful public officials in the state. Tull was one of his top executives for years.
Just days before his plea, Ralenkotter agreed to pay $24,406 in ethics fines for violating state laws prohibiting him from using his public position to enrich himself.
Tull agreed to pay $8,700 in fines last year.
Armeni said outside the courtroom Tuesday that Tull’s early acceptance of the fines was an indication of her willingness to accept responsibility for what she did.
The criminal case was tied to Ralenkotter’s use of nearly $17,000 in Southwest gift cards on personal travel and Tull’s personal use of $6,000 in cards.
Both former LVCVA executives reimbursed the convention authority for their personal travels before they left the agency. Ralenkotter was earning almost $1 million a year in salary and benefits at the time and went on to collect a nearly $300,000 annual state pension.
After Tull resigned last year, she took a job running the Las Vegas office of Cult Collective, a Canadian-based marketing service company that had a professional relationship with the LVCVA.
The criminal investigation was prompted by Review-Journal stories disclosing audit results that showed widespread misuse of the Southwest gift cards. The agency could not account for more than $50,000 of the cards, the audit found.
The audit was ordered amid the newspaper’s investigation that revealed wasteful spending and poor board oversight of the convention authority, which at the time had a $251 million operating budget, mostly from tourist taxes, to lure visitors to Las Vegas.
Since the scandal became public in 2018, the LVCVA has tightened its travel and business policies.
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands Corp. operates the Sands Expo & Convention Center, which competes with the LVCVA-operated Las Vegas Convention Center.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter. German is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing. Support our journalism.