Customers Pay For Texas Airport Execs’ Millions In Travel Expenses
DALLAS/FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - Chauffeured rides in Las Vegas, 5-star hotels in Paris, or drinks in Dubai with a $1,300 bar tab — sounds like a great way to travel, right?
The CBS 11 I-Team is showing how your customer dollars are being spent by top executives and board members of DFW International Airport.
DFW, owned by the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, operates on the customer fees you pay whenever you use the airport and fees paid by airlines. This summer, several sources reached out to the I-Team about, what they called, “rule bending” and excessive spending by executives and members of the board. One of their biggest concerns was a recent trip to Paris, France that cost more than $68,000.
Gary and Helen Copeland just got back from Paris, France.
“Well, it was kind of special. It’s our 50th wedding anniversary this year,” Gary Copeland told us.
But traveling wasn’t cheap. They used frequent flyer miles on flights, spent about $250 a night on their hotel and used the subway or walked to save money.
“I enjoyed the Louvre and Versailles,” Helen Copeland said.
The Copelands had a great trip and spent a total of about $2,000 in Paris. Way under budget compared to DFW Airport executives and board members who, in just one year, racked up $2.2 million in travel expenses.
Consider the Paris Air Trade Show back in June. A delegation from DFW International went to market their state-of-the-art Fire Training Center. But instead of sending someone who worked at the facility, your customer dollars sent Chairman of the Board Robert Hseuh, Board Member Jeff Wentworth, Vice President of Air Service Development Luis Perez and Marketing Specialist Kim Testa. They all traveled first class, racking up $41,000 in air fare charges alone.
“Is it a good idea to constantly travel first class? Obviously, being good stewards of customer dollars, Don’t you have to watch where you’re spending your money,” Investigative Reporter Mireya Villarreal asked.
“Well, are you asking me a question as far as,” DFW Spokesman David Magana answered.
“I’m asking you is it a good use of funds,” Villarreal followed up.
“All of the travel that we do is done within the guidelines of the policy,” Magana clarified.
But more than once we saw the rules being bent. Like more than $8,000 dollars for a chauffeured limousine service that picked up DFW attendees and their wives. A possible violation of the airport’s transportation policy that says the most “economical” mode of transportation must be taken like “taxicabs and airport shuttles”.
The couples stayed in a 5-star hotel that cost $863 a night. Not nice enough for Luis Perez, VP of Air Service Development, who asked for an upgrade. He complained the rooms “are very small and our category is very basic”. If the airport had paid for the upgrades they would have violated their travel policy that says “they shall always request the lowest cost room available” and DFW will not pay for “pay for upgraded accommodations”.
Luis Perez arrived in Paris with his wife four days before any airport business was scheduled. Perez received a per diem of $162 for those days and had his transportation paid for by DFW International Airport. The CBS 11 I-Team uncovered, after our investigation began back in July, an email was sent to Perez clarifying the details of his early arrival. The email was sent August 2nd.
“So, Kim sent this,” Villarreal noted. “You don’t want to look at it?”
“I don’t want to look at it,” David Magana, DFW International Airport Spokesman, said during their exchange.
“OK. I can tell you what it is if you’d like,” Villarreal offered.
“Ok,” Magana agreed.
“Basically it’s Kim and Mary Jo telling Luis what his itinerary is nearly a month after he’s been to Paris,” Villarreal explained.
As he Magana answered, he took the email, “Right.”
“Why does he need a refresher,” Villarreal questioned.
“Well,” Magana paused. “I don’t know how to answer that question.”
Earlier this month DFW executives and board members jetted off to Vegas. This time, our CBS 11 I-Team followed them. While attending a conference in early October, DFW executives, board members, and some of their spouses enjoyed some of the fun things Las Vegas has to offer, which is not uncommon. But it’s their style and cost that sets them apart.
Our undercover cameras caught board members, again, riding in chauffeured vehicles.
“The transportation companies are actually our insurance policy against making sure we make every meeting on time. That we don’t miss out on anything because then the whole trip is blown,” Magana explained.
But on that same trip, our undercover cameras also caught several DFW employees following the rules by taking taxis to and from the airport, hotel, and conference center. In fact, that weekend, we only saw DFW board members using the chauffeured service.
That same weekend, DFW rented out an entire exclusive restaurant. Executive Vice Presidents Phil Ritter and Chris Poinsette stayed out till midnight. The next morning, while most of the group headed to the conference, Ritter was hanging out at the hotel coffee bar.
But it’s not just this year, last year there was a trip to Dubai.
An itinerary the I-Team got a hold of shows DFW hosted a dinner reception. But the receipt for that dinner has the group racking up a nearly $1,291 tab drinks at the Rooftop Lounge. Vice President of Marketing Mary Jo Polidore claimed this was dinner, even though there’s no food on the bill. Instead, they had five bottles of Shiraz, four bottles of champagne and four glasses of Johnny Walker Blue.
“Accountability is essential because if you don’t have accountability for ethical behavior then it becomes a pattern or it becomes institutionalized,” Dr. Mel Fugate explained.
Dr. Fugate is a business professor at SMU that specializes in business ethics and accountability. He says questionable spending by top leaders in any organization can lead to bigger problems.
“Whether it’s travel, or an investment in new services, or building new facilities, each dollar needs to meet our goal, your objective,” Fugate said.
Airport Spokesman David Magana says the airport does that.
“We’ve had 17 new international destinations announced or started in the last three years,” he added. “And that’s not only a record run for this airport, but tis’ among the best performing air service records of any airport anywhere.”
But to play at this level, he also says you have to spend some cash.
“There is a level. There’s absolutely a level. It’s not an entitlement. It is absolutely part of doing business,” Magana noted. “You cannot bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to an airline CEO and call it a business lunch.”
Since our investigation began Luis Perez has written a check to DFW Airport, reimbursing them for part of his Paris trip. Airport officials tell us he’ll also be paying for part of his wife’s transportation in Paris.
But this isn’t the first time the I-Team has taken a look at DFW’s spending habits. After several stories aired back in 2005 the airport was warned by the FAA that they weren’t following federal guidelines dealing with travel spending.