TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist ordered an internal investigation and a citizen lodged an ethics complaint Wednesday over the extensive taxpayer-funded travel of Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman between the state capital and Tampa, near his family home.
Crist ordered his inspector general, Melinda Miguel, to review Peterman's travel after seeing a Times/Herald report that Peterman has spent $44,000 in tax dollars on travel in less than two years. Miguel's mission is to root out waste, fraud and abuse in state government, Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said.
Peterman did not respond Wednesday to a request for a comment. He issued a one-sentence statement that said: "Secretary Peterman and the Department of Juvenile Justice will fully cooperate with the inspector general's investigation."
He said Tuesday that he travels to St. Petersburg frequently to be closer to his employees and clients, and because Pinellas is one of seven urban counties with a high juvenile crime problem.
Nearly half of Peterman's total travel bill, about $20,000, was for 68 airplane flights between Tallahassee and Tampa over a period of 20 months. Many of those trips allowed Peterman to spend the weekend with his wife and four children, who live in St. Petersburg.
Peterman also is senior pastor at the Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, where he drew a $29,000 salary last year in addition to his $120,000 state salary, according to a financial disclosure statement he filed with the state in July.
An agency spokesman, Frank Penela, said Peterman continues to preach at the church on Sundays while serving as the state's top juvenile justice official. It is unusual for a full-time state agency head to hold a second job.
Crist said he would not judge Peterman's conduct until the review is complete. The governor said he had no recollection of Peterman asking to return home on weekends for family or church reasons.
"Hopefully, there's not more," Crist said. "I like to go to St. Pete sometimes, too, but I pay for it."
No records exist of Crist's personal travels because he pays for it out of his own pocket and does not seek reimbursement, a spokesman said.
As governor and a St. Petersburg resident, Crist has flown on the state plane 23 times to St. Petersburg since taking office, at a cost to taxpayers of $4,269. On 19 other occasions, he flew on the state plane to Tampa at a cost of $3,772.
The ethics complaint against Peterman was filed by David Plyer of Clearwater, a citizen activist who has filed complaints against Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and state Rep. Ray Sansom of Destin. Those allegations, like the one against Peterman, were based on news accounts.
Plyer, who is a member of the Pinellas County Juvenile Justice Council, said Peterman has never met with the council in the nearly two years he has been in office.
In his complaint, Plyer cited a state law that bars officials from using their positions "to secure a special privilege" for themselves.
"We do not expect them to take advantage of their position to make their personal lives more comfortable or convenient," Plyer wrote in his complaint. "When we become aware of a flagrant disregard for the trust we place in them, we expect and demand accountability."
Times/Herald staff writer Marc Caputo and Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.