LAS VEGAS >> The former chief executive of Las Vegas’ publicly funded tourism authority avoided felony charges Monday, pleading no contest to a misdemeanor and paying a $1,000 fine to end involvement in a case alleging agency misuse of tens of thousands of dollars in airline travel gift cards.
Rossi Ralenkotter’s attorney, Tony Sgro, said outside court he felt his client was treated exceptionally harshly by prosecutors despite cooperating with investigators and agreeing last week to pay about $24,000 in ethics fines for using his position to enrich himself.
“He spent the better part of 50 years creating the robust Las Vegas economy we all enjoy,” Sgro said. “This is a case that should never have been brought.”
District Attorney Steve Wolfson characterized the plea agreement as “fairly typical … in this type of case.”
Ralenkotter, 73, paid another $18,000 in restitution to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Wolfson noted in a statement that pointed also to the difficulty of handling cases amid courthouse measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
“In light of the pandemic, my office has been focused on crimes of violence,” Wolfson said. “The backlog of cases in the system has caused us to prioritize our caseload.”
Two former prosecutors who are now defense attorneys, Todd Leventhal and Kathleen Bliss, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal they believed Ralenkotter received what Leventhal characterized as a sweetheart deal. The Review-Journal first reported Monday’s courtroom development.
Ralenkotter was facing two felony charges, theft and misconduct by a public officer, that were dismissed when he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor official misconduct.
Felony charges remain pending against three co-defendants in the case, which were filed last September.
The criminal investigation followed Review-Journal stories in 2018 and an audit that found the convention authority could not account for more than $50,000 of airline travel vouchers.
The authority at the time had a $251 million tax-supported operating budget and a 14-member board made up of elected leaders and casino industry executives.
The board approved a $455,000 retirement package for Ralenkotter in August 2018 that included a post-retirement consulting contract with the agency. The board canceled that $270,000 contract after Ralenkotter was charged.