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Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp's e-mails show public and personal travel ties

TALLAHASSEE — Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp was in a jam.

It was April 2008, and Kottkamp and his wife were in Colorado Springs for a meeting with top Air Force officials. They had to go to an awards dinner on short notice, so they hired a babysitter from the Broadmoor hotel to watch their 4-year-old son, Jackson.

But they were in an unfamiliar place and didn't know the sitter. So Kottkamp — now locked in a Republican primary for Florida attorney general — asked his Highway Patrol security chief if another trooper could stay with Jackson "to make sure the sitter doesn't hurt him."

So, "out of an abundance of caution," his campaign says, a state trooper babysat the babysitter.

The story is included in more than 1,500 newly released e-mails given to the Times/Herald in a public records request about Kottkamp's travel as lieutenant governor. Kottkamp's travel patterns have come under fire before for his frequent use of the state plane, including many flights from Tallahassee to his hometown of Fort Myers.

The e-mails don't suggest Kottkamp broke any laws. But they paint a picture of a man with little reluctance to use taxpayer and Republican Party resources to make life more comfortable for himself and his family.

For example, in 2007 Kottkamp flew on a state plane to Virginia to attend an official conference, arriving four days early so he and his family, who were traveling with him, could have a personal vacation.

A year later, his wife, Cyndie, approached Kottkamp and his Highway Patrol security chief. "I may take Jackson to Universal tomorrow. Will I have transportation?" she asked. His campaign this week said "to the best of our knowledge" a trooper didn't drive them to the Orlando resort.

The e-mails also show that Kottkamp enjoyed at least three free plane trips courtesy of Destin developer Jay Odom, a prominent GOP donor later charged with grand theft in the as yet unresolved Ray Sansom case. The flights were properly reported as donations to the Republican Party of Florida, but Kottkamp's association with Odom is inconvenient now because of Odom's trial and the party's recent spending scandal.

The Kottkamp campaign would not make the candidate available for an interview. It responded with a written statement that called the story a "political hit job."

"All travel issues have been exhaustively investigated and resolved," a campaign spokesman wrote.

Kottkamp's security chief was former Highway Patrol Officer John Schultz, who is now a GOP candidate for a state House seat in southwest Florida. He said Kottkamp and his family receive protection nearly around the clock, just like Gov. Charlie Crist.

"I was charged with protecting the life and safety of the LG and his family based on the schedule provided to me," he said in a written response.

A lawyer and former state legislator from Fort Myers, Kottkamp was picked by Crist to be his running mate in 2006. Their relationship has since soured, and the two haven't spoken since Crist left the Republican Party in April to run as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate.

But in 2007, Kottkamp went with Crist to a well-publicized climate change summit in Miami with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Afterward, Kottkamp and his family flew on Odom's Cessna Citation to a GOP fundraiser in Tampa, then home to Fort Myers.

Odom and Sansom became household names starting in November 2008 after news reports tracked how Sansom inserted $6 million into the state budget for a combination emergency operations center and hangar for Odom's jets.

There is no evidence that Kottkamp was involved in those budget discussions. He was one of several top GOP public officials who rode on the plane dubbed "Sansom Air" because of the frequent use by the ex-lawmaker.

In August 2008, Kottkamp took Odom's jet to Atlanta on the way to a GOP-sponsored whitewater rafting and fundraising trip to Tennessee.

In an e-mail exchange, Kottkamp laid out the trip's schedule: fly to Atlanta for a Braves baseball game, overnighting at the Ritz-Carlton in the upscale neighborhood of Buckhead.

Kottkamp discussed having the Republican Party pay for hotel rooms for Odom's pilots while in Atlanta: "It would not be nice to expect Jay to pay for their hotel," he wrote.

The itinerary called for Kottkamp, his family and staffers to drive on to Gatlinburg, Tenn., in the Great Smoky Mountains. They would stay at Hickory Mist Cabins and hike at Cades Cove.

Kottkamp did not pay for the Odom flights. The Republican Party cut Odom's company a $2,100 check for the 2007 trips. Odom donated the Atlanta flights to the party, at a listed value of $2,000.

The e-mails also add more detail to last year's stories that Kottkamp had booked more than $700,000 in state plane flights, many of which ferried him between the state capital and his hometown of Fort Myers.

An ethics investigation about his travels was dismissed last year for lack of probable cause.

"This thing was investigated thoroughly," Kottkamp said in an interview with the Times editorial board. "If you look at the Gannett (News Service) breakdown, I've traveled less than any other statewide elected official. Far less than some. And they found no probable cause even to look at it."

A February 2009 South Florida Sun-Sentinel story said one taxpayer-paid flight to St. Augustine in April 2007 coincided with two "personal days" and appeared to be for a vacation. (After the story broke, Kottkamp repaid the state $1,700 for the trip.)

A newly released e-mail shows another motivation for the trip. Cyndie Kottkamp, who works for an Orlando venture capital fund, asked her husband if they could attend a private equity networking conference for her job. The conference, in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach, was the same weekend as the flight.

During the dustup over the state airplane trips, Kottkamp also had a state trooper drive him and his family to suburban Atlanta for a surprise birthday party for a Tallahassee lobbyist at a concert featuring soft-rock singer Kenny Loggins.

Later that same year, another e-mail shows Kottkamp added extra time in his schedule for a family vacation in Charlottesville, Va. It coincided with an official convention he attended two hours away in Williamsburg.

The National Lieutenant Governors Association's three-day convention didn't begin until July 25. But the Kottkamps flew on the state plane to Richmond — about midway between the two cities — four days earlier on July 21. Cost to the state: $10,135.

Kottkamp's campaign noted that the cost of the plane would have been the same regardless of the personal trip. Kottkamp reimbursed the state $561 for his wife's portion of the trip.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp's e-mails show public and personal travel ties 08/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 7, 2010 12:22am]

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