Inspector general: Christie lodged in luxury on taxpayer dime

Below is a reprint of a portion of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General report on U.S. Attorney travel that exceeded the government lodging rate.

A Star-Ledger report today by reporter Josh Margolin identifies Gov. Chris Christie, the former U.S. Attorney, as U.S. Attorney C, listed in the inspector’s report as the worst offfender among traveling U.S. Attorneys who sought comfort above and beyond the government rate. 

“During 2007-2009, U.S. Attorney C submitted 23 vouchers that included reimbursement for lodging. Of the 23 vouchers, 15 (65 percent) exceeded the government rate for lodging. After reviewing the travel documents and interviewing the U.S. Attorney’s secretary, we found insufficient justification for exceeding the government rate with respect to 14 of the 15 trips. These 14 vouchers exceeded the government rate by $19 to $242 per night, for a total of $2,176 (excluding taxes for domestic travel). U.S. Attorney C’s lodging costs exceeded the government rate by more than $100 per night on 9 of the 14 vouchers.

“In terms of the percentage of travel, U.S. Attorney C was the U.S. Attorney who most often exceeded the government rate without adequate justification. The U.S. Attorney provided insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification for 14 of 23 trips (61 percent) that exceeded the government rate.

“Twelve of the 14 vouchers involved travel for one particular case. When traveling for the case, U.S. Attorney C exceeded the government lodging rate in five different cities.

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EOUSA is required to pre-approve travel reimbursed by third parties. Our list of 26 questionable trips by U.S. Attorney B does not include any trip that had been pre-approved by EOUSA that was not reimbursed by the third-party.

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“The U.S. Attorney’s secretary told us that she routinely called hotels to seek the government rate. However, she also said that the U.S. Attorney selected his hotel if he was familiar with the city and that she would seek a recommendation for a “decent” hotel if he was not. The secretary told us that if the recommended hotel did not offer the government rate, she would consider other hotels but also take into account the time of the meeting and the distance from the hotel to the meeting site. The secretary stated that the U.S. Attorney normally stayed at the hotel closest to or at the location of his meetings.

“Justification memoranda were included in the travel documentation for 9 of the 12 trips related to the case. The justification memoranda were prepared by the U.S. Attorney’s secretary and signed by the U.S. Attorney. Eight of the memoranda stated that the government lodging rate was not available in the particular city on the particular dates and asked that the USAO budget officer approve the actual cost of the hotel. According to the budget officer, this was the standard justification memorandum language used by the USAO. According to the U.S. Attorney’s secretary, the language of the memoranda did not literally mean that there were ‘no hotels available at the government rate in the particular city’ but that the government rate was not available at the hotel or hotels that fit her criteria – a ‘decent’ hotel at or near the meeting site.

“For example, U.S. Attorney C traveled outside of his district to Boston, Massachusetts, for meetings with representatives of a defendant company at the Nine Zero Hotel. U.S. Attorney C stayed at the Nine Zero Hotel at a cost of $449 per night, which was more than double the government rate of $220 per night in Boston.16 U.S. Attorney C’s secretary told us that it was a “coincidence” that these meetings were at the same hotel where she had reserved a room for the U.S. Attorney.

“In addition to his case-related travel, U.S. Attorney C also exceeded the government lodging rate when he traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak to an association. The U.S. Attorney stayed overnight at the Four Seasons Hotel, where he was scheduled to speak the following morning. The hotel rate at the Four Seasons was $475 per night, more than double the government rate of $233 per night. According to the justification memorandum, the U.S. Attorney stayed at the Four Seasons because his speech was scheduled at that hotel early in the morning.

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“U.S. Attorney C’s reimbursements for airport transportation costs were also noteworthy. For example, rather than take a taxi from the Boston airport to the Nine Zero Hotel in downtown Boston, a trip of approximately 4 miles, he prearranged a car service to and from the Boston airport to the hotel, which cost the government $236 round trip. In another example of excessive transportation costs, his car service from a London airport to his hotel in central London cost $562 round trip.

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“U.S. Attorney C declined our request for an interview. In a letter to the OIG, U.S. Attorney C’s attorney stated that the U.S. Attorney was unable to provide “any other specific information” to supplement the travel documentation that we had provided to him for review.

“In sum, we concluded that U.S. Attorney C did not comply with the travel regulations or show that his lodging costs which exceeded the government rate were appropriate. The U.S. Attorney or his staff did not make an adequate effort to determine whether the government rate was available within a reasonable distance of his meetings. Most of the justification memoranda that we found simply stated that the government rate was unavailable, but provided no substantiation for this claim. In four cases, there was no justification memorandum at all. The justification for his stay at the Four Seasons Hotel (at a rate of $475 per night) was an early morning speech at the hotel. We do not believe this was a suitable justification for exceeding the government rate, particularly by such a large amount, if lodging at the government rate was available at a hotel within a reasonable distance from that hotel.”