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Free airplane rides not unusual for IOC members
Posted: Thursday January 14, 1999 11:20 AM
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Olympic boosters used state airplanes to ferry International Olympic Committee members and others to scenic spots during the hunt for the 2002 Winter Games, a state executive confirmed Wednesday.
The bid committee, a private group of Olympic boosters that spearheaded Salt Lake's effort, reimbursed the state $9,561 - the going rate for state agencies -- for eight flights in 1994-95, said Tom Warne, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation.
The Deseret News first reported the story on Wednesday.
The Salt Lake Bid Committee used state planes to shuttle IOC delegates, sports federation officials and games organizers to Page, Arizona on the shores of Lake Powell, and to Moab, 265 and 195 miles (425 and 310 kms) south of Salt Lake, respectively, and to Jackson, Wyoming, 200 miles (320 kms) north.
Flight records indicate all eight flights were day trips of no longer than three hours each. They began in June 1994 and ended in May 1995, a month before the IOC picked Salt Lake City to host the games.
Two top executives of the Salt Lake Olympic organization have resigned and the IOC is calling up to a dozen members to account for cash payments, lavish gifts and free medical care Salt Lake organizers gave them during the bid. Four investigations, including one by the Justice Department, also are under way.
State employees who arranged the flights at the request of Olympic bid officials "saw the committee as an extension of the Department of Economic Development," Warne said. "It was not seen as unusual."
Gov. Mike Leavitt declined Wednesday to say whether it was a smart decision for those employees to make, although he noted the airplanes are used at times to foster economic development.
"The airplanes are to be used for interests that further the state purposes. ... I assume whoever made the decision decided this furthered state purposes," Leavitt said.
Warne said it's difficult to determine from the records who gave the OK to treat the bid committee as a state agency, but it would have been within the purview of the transportation department's aeronautics division.
The rate paid by the bid committee was $375 per hour, including a pilot, for the King Air B200 twin-engine plane, which made all eight flights, Warne said. A second, smaller plane was used on one trip in April 1995, at a rate of $180 per hour.
A commercial charter service would have cost the bid committee hundreds of dollars more.
Among the IOC members listed in the UDOT flight records are Anton Geesink of the Netherlands, Alexandru Siperio of Romania, Walther Troeger of Germany and Jim Easton of the United States. Family members were along on the trips.
The records also indicate that Vladimir Cernusak of Slovakia and David Sikhulumi Sibandze of Swaziland, or family members of each, may have been on the trips. It's not clear because the first names are spelled differently on the flight records.
Top Salt Lake bid officials and their spouses, as well as officials from Salt Lake City, the Utah Sports Authority and various sports federations officials also participated, records indicate.
The state planes typically are used by the governor and state agency directors to attend meetings.
Warne said a Federal Aviation Administration rule that took effect in 1996 would forbid use of a state's planes by non-state employees or those not working directly on state business.
The governor said he knew of no other instance of a state department lending help to the bid committee.
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