Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Audit jabs Tampa mayor's use of SUV bought with Republican National Convention grant

TAMPA — Tampa's mayor once drove in a pimpmobile, a 2005 GMC Yukon that police had seized from a tattooed sex trafficker. No one complained. It was free.

Now Bob Buckhorn rides in the afterglow of the 2012 Republican National Convention. The shiny black Chevrolet Suburban was bought through a $49.9 million Justice Department grant intended to keep the convention safe.

It was a steal at $31,684, but federal bean counters are not amused. A newly released report from the Justice Department's inspector general takes a jab at Buckhorn. Auditors aren't buying the city's explanation that the SUV, as part of his security detail, is a legitimate use of criminal justice funds.

"During our site visits, we observed the mayor driving the vehicle himself and not accompanied by anyone else," the audit concludes. "We do not consider this type of use permissible under the terms and conditions of the grant."

The report includes a Nov. 1, 2012, surveillance photo of the Suburban, parked in the mayor's reserved spot outside City Hall.

It could have been worse. Buckhorn could have adopted the city's new $272,904 armored vehicle, also bought with RNC security money. Auditors suggested Tampa could have upgraded an existing armored vehicle for less.

The mayor did not respond to calls from the Tampa Bay Times.

According to Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Laura McElroy, the Suburban is typically driven by Detective Mike Victor, who leaves his department-issued vehicle at the mayor's home and drives him to appointments in the SUV. But some days, Buckhorn drives himself to City Hall and meets Victor there, she said.

The Suburban is one of two motorcade vehicles purchased with Bureau of Justice Assistance funds for "dignitary protection," the city told auditors. It was among 47 vehicles Tampa bought for convention security, at a cost of nearly $1.2 million.

After the GOP crowd left, the motorcade vehicles were assigned to the Police Department's Criminal Intelligence Bureau and Special Incident Management Unit, McElroy said.

Victor, part of the Criminal Intelligence Bureau, has used the Suburban to protect Gov. Rick Scott and members of Congress, McElroy said. In the coming days, the vehicle will be called to duty for a high-ranking Syrian official visiting the bay area.

Buckhorn, a Democrat, isn't the first Tampa mayor to have a security detail.

"We get about two dozen threats or incidents that we investigate a year with the mayor," McElroy said.

As for the audit, she said the department plans to amend written internal procedures to reflect that a police vehicle may be used for the mayor's protection.

Patty Ryan may be reached at or (813) 226-3382.

Audit jabs Tampa mayor's use of SUV bought with Republican National Convention grant 05/14/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 8:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Half of Florida lawmakers fail or nearly fail review of support for public records

    State Roundup

    WEST PALM BEACH — Half of Florida's legislators failed or nearly failed in a review of their support for public records and meetings given by Florida newspapers and an open-government group after this year's legislative sessions.

    State Senator Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton (left) and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran ranked on opposite sides of the spectrum in an analysis of support for open records. Galvano scored a B-minus and Corcoran scored a D-plus.
[Times file photo]
  2. Yale dean on leave over offensive Yelp reviews leaves post

    Bizarre News

    NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Yale University dean who was placed on leave over offensive reviews she posted on Yelp has left her position at the Ivy League institution, school officials said Tuesday.

  3. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  4. The people you meet along O.J. Howard Lane


    OJ Howard (far right) is seen in a photo from his adolescent years at Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Prattville, Ala., on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Howard served as an usher in addition to attending regular services at this church.