TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement failed to report the names of passengers flying on state-operated aircraft and the purposes of their travels to show all transportation was for official state business, according to a new audit.
State auditors examined a sample of flight records kept by the law-enforcement agency between January 2019 and June 2019 to determine whether it properly charged people for transportation costs.
The records showed 1,311 passengers had flown on 310 state-operated flights, and none of them were subject to travel charges, according to the report by the Florida Auditor General released last week.
While the department kept a record of the number of passengers on each flight, it failed to indicate the names of people and whether they were traveling on official state business, the report said.
“The absence of department records evidencing the specific individuals transported on department flights or the purpose of their travels frustrates the ability to assess the department’s assertion that all transportation on department aircraft is for official state business,” auditors wrote.
People who are not traveling on state business are allowed to fly on state-operated aircraft under certain circumstances. They may accompany the governor, the lieutenant governor, a member of the Florida Cabinet, the Senate president, the House Speaker or the Florida Supreme Court chief justice when those officials are on state business and seats are available, according to state law.
However, the people not traveling on state business have to pay a portion of the transportation costs.
In response to the audit, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials said the agency “only allows passengers on its aircraft for law enforcement mission flights and to provide security and transportation for the governor and the governor’s immediate family.”
Therefore, agency officials said the department “does not fly with seats available or on a cost-sharing basis and that all department aircraft is for official state business only.”
But auditors maintained that just because a person is authorized to travel with the governor or his family while on state business “does not inherently constitute state business.”
Without adequate flight records, auditors said, FDLE “cannot demonstrate that all individuals were flying on official state business and therefore were not subject to applicable transportation charges.”
The audit came as FDLE attorneys continue to negotiate a $15.5 million contract for a new jet for Gov. Ron DeSantis. The governor’s proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year also includes $1.2 million in recurring funds toward financing the plane.
But until specific are hashed out, it remains unclear when the plane — a Cessna Citation Latitude model from Textron Aviation Inc. — will be made available to the governor, who regularly flies across the state.
The decision to buy a jet for DeSantis came after former Gov. Rick Scott, the wealthiest governor in state history, got rid of state planes and used his own private plane to travel the state.
The move left DeSantis, who was elected last November, flying on an aircraft that raised concerns after it experienced a mechanical malfunction in January and required an emergency landing.
The plane has been fixed since the scare, according to FDLE spokeswoman Jessica Cary. This year, the agency also budgeted $400,000 to upgrade the plane’s avionics to meet new Federal Aviation Administration regulations, Cary said.
(©2019 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Ana Ceballos contributed to this report.)