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Lt. Gov. Kottkamp asked state to send trooper with him to Italy

TALLAHASSEE — To celebrate his 50th birthday, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp took a two-week trip to Italy at his own expense, but he sought help from taxpayers.

Kottkamp wanted the state to pay for 24-hour security from his full-time escort and driver, a captain in the Florida Highway Patrol, which would have cost thousands of dollars.

No way, said the director of the agency that runs the state police.

"This expenditure is not a wise use of the state's resources," said Julie Jones, executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in a letter denying Kottkamp's request.

The rebuke is the third time that Kottkamp's use of state employees and equipment have raised questions during his term of office.

During his first two years as lieutenant governor, Kottkamp frequently flew on state aircraft between his home in Fort Myers and the state Capitol in Tallahassee, sometimes taking his wife and son along.

When he offered to reimburse the state for their travel, the agency that manages the state air fleet declined to accept the check.

Last year, Kottkamp had his trooper drive him to Atlanta and back so he could attend a Kenny Loggins concert and birthday party for a friend, a Tallahassee lobbyist.

In pressing his case for a security detail in Italy, Kottkamp wrote to Jones on Nov. 5, noting he would be meeting "high-level executives" in the Italian business community. He also cited a State Department advisory of a continuing threat of terrorism against U.S. citizens and interests around the world.

"Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia .… These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics, including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings,'' Kottkamp wrote.

"Due to these serious ongoing security threats and the responsibility of the Florida Highway Patrol to provide security and transportation to the lieutenant governor, I'm sure you would agree that the attendance on the trip to Italy of the FHP trooper responsible for my security, Captain Alan Compton, is necessary," he wrote.

In her reply letter of the same date, Jones said she consulted with Chuck Drago, a deputy chief of staff in Gov. Charlie Crist's office and a law enforcement officer, before denying Kottkamp's request.

"During these challenging economic times, we are compelled to make difficult decisions," Jones wrote. "Given the personal nature of this trip and limited business application, I am compelled to refuse your request. I do not do this lightly."

Kottkamp, in his letter, accused Jones of inaccurately saying that Crist's chief of staff, Shane Strum, denied approval for the trooper's travel. On Wednesday, Strum said the governor's office was not asked to approve it.

"We never approved it," Strum said. "On something like this, we would defer to law enforcement."

Kottkamp ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2010, finishing second in the Republican primary to Pam Bondi. He and Crist will leave office on Jan. 4 when Rick Scott and Jennifer Carroll are sworn in as governor and lieutenant governor.

Kottcamp is due to return Monday. He did not respond to a text message seeking comment and was unavailable by telephone and e-mail.

His staff released a statement asking that coverage of his trip be delayed until he returned, saying: "It is both irresponsible and reckless to discuss the details of the security provided to the governor and lieutenant governor. Any state employee that leaks information related to their security that in any way jeopardizes their safety should be immediately dismissed."

The information about Kottkamp's trip was obtained through public records.

On his Facebook page, Kottkamp wrote on Nov. 12: "Started the day with an awesome tour of the Vatican. Then had a great meeting with business leaders in Rome to discuss trade opportunities. Now heading to dinner … I think I will order Italian!"

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Lt. Gov. Kottkamp asked state to send trooper with him to Italy 11/17/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 18, 2010 7:52am]
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