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State auditors say Florida officials are misusing travel system

TALLAHASSEE — Top Florida officials misused state money to travel between the capital and their homes, costing taxpayers at least $51,000 and raising potential IRS violations, according to state investigators' findings obtained Monday by the Times/Herald.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp spent $51,000 commuting to their homes or taking "unnecessary legs during business trips," according to the Department of Management Services' audit.

According to auditors, Sink spent the most — $27,200 — while McCollum spent $12,600 and Kottkamp spent $9,900.

In addition to Kottkamp, Sink and McCollum, Gov. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson used the planes for commuting, auditors said.

Kottkamp reimbursed the state $10,000 for his travels after news reports exposed the practice. Sink has ordered her staff to conduct an internal investigation into her use of the state plane.

Crist said Monday that he believes no additional reviews of plane use are necessary, adding, "from what I've seen, they're using the taxpayers' property for taxpayer purposes."

McCollum said he is "not doing any further internal investigation." He said he needs to use planes "to get around the state'' because "Tallahassee is not the easiest place to fly into."

And Bronson spokesman Terry McElroy said that auditors were mistaken if they included the agriculture commissioner on the list because Bronson "doesn't have a residence outside of Tallahassee."

The draft report recommended that the department seek an attorney general's opinion as to whether the use of the state aircraft for these purposes was a violation of state law. But the attorney general's opinion was never sought and the auditors' conclusions were left out of the final report.

On Monday, Tallahassee lawyer Jose Blas Lorenzo Jr. also filed an ethics complaint accusing Sink of misusing state aircraft. His complaint does not mention any other state officials.

Times/Herald staff writers Shannon Colavecchio and Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.

State auditors say Florida officials are misusing travel system 06/29/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 29, 2009 11:13pm]
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