How lavish was Gov. Easley's trip to Italy?

June 20, 2008 1:30:13 PM PDT
State records show Governor Easley's economic development trip to Italy cost more than a hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money.

Now, Eyewitness News has uncovered some of what all that money bought. Throughout the trip, Governor Easley, his wife and a press secretary stayed at high class hotels. Their total hotel bill? $5,974.29. On their hotel bills, certain items are redacted from the public documents. At their hotel in Rome, the five star luxury Marriott Grand Hotel Flora, Governor Easley's room cost $785.56 a night. On his bill, one item on April 20th that cost 68.50 Euros or just more than a hundred dollars is redacted. The commerce department hasn't told Eyewitness News what this expenditure is or why it's redacted.

In Florence, Governor Easley stayed in a four star hotel for $336.61 a night. He spent $106.27 on a laundry service. The following night in Venice, Governor Easley, his wife, press secretary Sherri Johnson, Division of Tourism Director Lynn Minges, North Carolina's European travel account manager Claudia Schwegmann and four State Highway Patrol officers dined for more than one hundred dollars a person at the Trattoria Alle Testiere. Concierge.com says seats at the restaurant are "some of the most sought-after seats in Venice." The total bill came to $958.44.

"24 hours a day, seven days a week we make sure that the governor remains safe," says NC Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety Bryan Beatty. Four NC Highway Patrolmen travelled with the governor as his security detail Secretary Beatty says when the Governor travels, security has to be as close to him at all times so they stay in the same hotels and eat at the same restaurants.

"I wouldn't call it a perk of the job, it is part of the job," says Secretary Beatty. "If he's sitting and he travels, they travel with him. I've been on that detail some 25 years ago, and there are some things you would say that you enjoyed doing, there are other things you had to endure," he continued.

A chauffeur drove Governor Easley around Italy in a Mercedes S-Class sedan. Secretary Beatty tells Eyewitness News the only request the state made about the car was that it would be a sedan so he could be accompanied by security. He says he would also want the Governor to be driven by a service they could trust to be safe. The chauffeur driven sedan and vans for the delegation cost North Carolina taxpayers more than 43 thousand euros. By today's exchange rate that's more than $61000.

Other expenses for the trip include $125 spent on a piece of Ben Owens pottery to be given as a gift. $95 for UPS shipments, $129.86 on a dinner at a pub in London and two room service breakfasts for Lynn Minges, the Tourism Director, one at $25 and another for $9 all were paid for with taxpayer money.

The Department of Commerce says the expenses were worth it. "It's clearly expensive and I understand people's concerns but I also believe strongly that this kind of mission is very important for North Carolina to participate in and to have the governor participate in it is doubly important, especially now when the dollar is not in a very strong position," says Katharine Neal, communications secretary at the Department of Commerce.

Eyewitness News is continuing to uncover facts about this trip and other state trips paid for with taxpayer money. As we get new info, we'll bring it to you. If you have tips, e-mail investigates@abc11mail.com.


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