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GSA scandal: Don't blame Las Vegas, city leaders say

April 17, 2012|By John M. Glionna
  • Jeff Neely, the central figure in a General Services Administration spending scandal, at a hearing Monday in Washington.
Jeff Neely, the central figure in a General Services Administration spending… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

LAS VEGAS -- This gaming capital has some winners and a lot of big-time losers, one of the last being a guy named Uncle Sam. Oh, and don’t forget about those American taxpayers.

The government’s General Services Administration threw a humdinger of a four-day conference in 2010 at the M Resort in suburban Henderson that was billed to the public coffers to the tune of more than $800,000. The soiree featured a mind reader and other extravagances, leading to a federal probe into the affair.

But officials here have taken umbrage at being included as the butt of jokes in a controversy they say they they had little to do with. Apparently, what happens in Vegas can’t always be blamed on Vegas.

In recent days, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman has said publicly that she doesn’t want her city to be used as any scapegoat by Washington insiders who might seek to portray Lady Luck as some siren luring unsuspecting bureaucrats to their fiscal doom.

On Monday, those sentiments were echoed by the city Chamber of Commerce.

“The GSA controversy transcends location. This case is apparently an example of bad judgment in terms of excessive spending that could have been made in any city of the world,” Cara Roberts,  a spokeswoman for the chamber, told the Los Angeles Times. “This city attracts nearly 5 million delegates each year and most of them really do come here to work. This isn’t about Las Vegas. It’s about judgment.”

Three congressional panels have scheduled hearings this week on the matter. The probe so far focuses on Jeff Neely, a career senior GSA executive who hosted the conference for 300 managers and staff members.

The GSA has already canceled several previously scheduled conferences, including two here in Las Vegas.

Officials here wish the government luck in their probe, but please, leave them out of it. They’re busy maintaining a $6-billion annual convention business that provides 46,000 jobs through 19,000 meetings, conventions and trade shows each year, including such clients as funeral directors, Elvis Presley fans, celebrity impersonators and "Star Trek" fans.

In a statement released after the GSA controversy broke, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau summed up the city’s stance: “We are always happy when people choose to visit Las Vegas. However, we’re even happier when people choose to visit responsibly. Taxpayers need to know that their money is being spent wisely, no matter where that is.”

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