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General flying high _ at taxpayers' expense

The chief of the U.S. Space Command has reimbursed the government for part of the cost of flying military planes from Italy to Colorado, to Washington, D.C., then back to Colorado, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

Gen. Joseph Ashy flew last September from Naples, Italy, to Colorado Springs, Colo., on a 200-seat transport plane equipped with a distinguished visitor package, accompanied only by his aide and his cat. The plane had been sent from New Jersey to pick them up.

The Air Force put the total cost of his use of the jet, including two aerial refuelings by KC-135 tankers, at $116,000 and perhaps as much as $267,600.

Investigators with the Air Force's inspector general's office said Ashy could have flown commercial for $650.

Shortly after arriving in Colorado Springs to assume command of the U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Ashy and his wife flew to Washington and back on another military plane at a cost of between $5,000 and $7,500.

A commercial flight would have cost about $500 apiece, investigators said.

Ashy did not return phone calls Tuesday. He told investigators he had not requested the 200-passenger C-141 equipped with a television, VCR and two beds for the flight from Italy.

He also said he had rejected flying commercial because he thought using a military plane "would be more convenient and frugal," the investigators' report said.

Investigators took a dimmer view of Ashy's round-trip flight from Colorado Springs to Washington for a ceremony marking his promotion to general.

Investigators recommended Ashy be required to pay for that flight.

Capt. Michael Doubleday, a Pentagon spokesman, said Ashy had indeed paid back $5,000 for the Colorado flight.

"As far as I know, there is no disciplinary action pending against Gen. Ashy," he said.

The flights might never have come to light had two retired officers not been barred from flying on the plane from Naples to Colorado. They complained to a Newsweek magazine reporter, who began asking questions.