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Nothing scandalous about airport getting shortchanged by limousines, buses

by John L. Smith

Imagine my disappointment. There I was, hoping I’d found a certified scandal out at McCarran International Airport. Tipsters had been whispering for weeks about the upcoming findings of the Department of Aviation auditors, who had done an in-depth analysis of the six limousine and bus shuttle companies that have been operating under contract at McCarran for nearly five years.

With their contracts due to come up for bid in June, and with many millions in revenues at stake in the super-competitive end of the local transportation business, the timing seemed right for the discovery of shenanigans on the part of the limo companies.

Concessionaire Airline Limo, for instance, understated its gross revenues from July 1, 2001, through Oct. 31, 2005, by $1.5 million. The errors resulted in concession fees and interest due to the Department of Aviation of approximately $188,500, according to the department’s memorandum on the subject.

This seems like a lot of money to me, but then an airport official pointed out the fact that the Department of Aviation generates more than $350 million annually from McCarran in concessions, food and beverage and airline fees.

Then there’s another sticky detail. Following the audit findings, the concessionaire took the opportunity to pay the difference.

Better to cut the check and move on than take a chance at losing what must be one of the most lucrative limo and shuttle concessions in Las Vegas.

Administrative errors were stated as a reason Showtime Tours understated its gross income for the same time period, thus shorting the county department $61,158.

On Demand Sedan understated its gross revenues by $1.8 million over a four-year period and was deemed to owe $205,000 in fees and interest. Coach USA owed $178,000. CLS Trans owed $10,000.

Interestingly, among the auditors’ findings was this statement: “There is no functioning system in place to identify concessionaires who have failed to submit the required annual financial statements to the Department of Aviation.”

In other words, while the auditors found the shortages and errors, they got around to the concessionaires in question only once every four years.

It would make great sense, then, for the county to issue a uniform standard of accounting from its concessionaires in order to eliminate such questionable confusion in the future, wouldn’t it?

Director of Aviation Randy Walker said one problem with accurate compliance is the fact each company involved is run differently. But, he added, in no case were the companies found to have attempted to deceive the auditors.

“Finding some minor issues is not a big concern, because you get them fixed,” Walker said. “I think most of the companies have too much at stake to do anything illegal or fraudulent. … I think the whole process kind of works.”

Four auditors work for the department full-time on airport concessionaires.

It makes me wonder how much underreporting might be uncovered if the department employed twice as many auditors.

•••

CORRUPTION TRIAL: Michael Galardi was dismissed from the witness stand Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court after surviving an at-times withering cross-examination from defense attorneys Jerry Bernstein and Richard Wright.

For his part, Wright was a veritable assassin in the courtroom as he illustrated in simple terms a few of Galardi’s inconsistencies. He also drove Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Schiess to roar objections and appear rattled for one of the few times in the trial.

At one point, the subject turned to how Galardi’s sketchy memory improved so dramatically after the lunch break. He appeared to have been coached over the noon hour.

“How did Mr. Schiess know to ask those questions?” Wright jabbed.

“I’ll stipulate (Galardi attorney Robert) Rose talked to me just before the break ended,” Schiess said.

Outside the courtroom, Rose alluded to the possibility of at least three more trials associated with the case, including a second San Diego trial.

•••

ON THE BOULEVARD: Lucky Liz Renay, the Vegas bombshell who starred in John Waters’ “Desperate Living,” is preparing to celebrate her 80th birthday.

Expect something wild, very wild, from the woman who in her prime streaked down Hollywood Boulevard.

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.