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 [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.