I-Team: Port Tampa Bay Executives wining and dining on your dime

TAMPA, Fla. - Every year we see it on our property tax bill. Millions of your tax dollars going to Port Tampa Bay.

But that's not it. The port also gets state and federal grants.

Which is why many are frustrated at what the I-Team uncovered.

The I-Team spent months sifting through the port's credit card statements and found quite a bit of wining and dining.

"It's part of what you do.. We roll out the red carpet" says Port Tampa Bay's CEO Paul Anderson.

He's makes no apologies when it comes to spending millions of your tax dollars.

"I was brought here to compete in the major leagues, not single A", Anderson replies.

We looked at credit card statements from Anderson and 7 of his top aides at the port.

In the last 3 years, those port executives spent more than $870 thousand ($871,830.48) on their P-Cards.

Official             CC charges

Elliott--------------$235,320.87
Alfonso-----------$157,339.54
Miyagishima-----$132,936.26
Anderson---------$109,408.79
Strauch------------$92,675.06
Lovelace----------$88,776.32
Padron------------$46,667.14
Ramsfield---------$8,706.50

See a database of ALL of their charges and amounts here: http://wfts.tv/2tvvq7M

They charged more than $30 thousand in golf club memberships and outings at TPC Tampa Bay and Cheval Golf Club.

One of the executives with a Cheval Club membership happens to be living in the Cheval gated community.

Executives charged thousands in Tampa Bay Lightning season tickets. A total of $44,551.61 was charged towards expenses at Amalie Arena including those season tickets.

We found charges for skeet shooting and target practice. And tens of thousands on fancy dinners at expensive restaurants.

After reviewing a receipt from Berns steakhouse we found charges for several $50 steaks, lots of premium liquor like Ron Zacapa and several glasses of wine at $20 a pop.

We discovered a bill at Coopers Hawk Winery and Restaurant for more than $2,100. But the Port could not provide us the receipt.

The "red carpet" Anderson mentions doesn't stop there, bills from Eddie V's, Timpanos, Columbia Restaurant, and the list goes on.

Here are some examples and totals:

Local restaurant expenditures:

Columbia (Café or Restaurant)-----$16,845.11
Ulele---------------------------------------$6,289.33
Crumb & Cork---------------------------$5,225.95
Eddie V's---------------------------------$4,049.91
Coopers Hawk--------------------------$3,931.98

We found charges for flowers and fancy chocolates, $4 thousand dropped on neckties, and nearly $3 thousand on holiday turkeys to give away. Port officials say the turkeys went to charity but could not tell us which one.

"I'm not aware off the top of my head but we do give those out" answers Anderson.

Executives at Port Tampa Bay are gobbling up all kinds of charges.

Following our records request for credit card statements, executive Raul Alfonso, paid back the port for the cost of his subscription to Golf Digest Magazine.

Also following our records request, former executive Ed Miyagishima, who resigned 2 days after our first investigation, had to pay the port back more than $11 thousand in unexplained charges including fancy dinners, bar tabs, and flowers.

See Ed's "unexplained" expenditures here: http://wfts.tv/2tvHxSr

And travel? Managers are traveling the world from South America to China. At times staying at nice hotels like The Four Seasons, and locally- beach front hotels in Miami.

CEO Paul Anderson is even spending money on two public relations firms helping him prepare for his interview with us (both reps from those firms were standing by when we asked questions).

Reporter: "What kind of business deals have been closed as a direct result to the golf outings?"

While Anderson never answered the question directly he stated, "It's customary in not only our industry but particularly our industry but almost every industry."

We spoke to Anderson's predecessor, Richard Wainio, who ran the port of Tampa for 7 years.   

Wainio got rid of club memberships. He says he didn't believe in fancy dinners, and kept travel to a minimum.

He told us, "I consider it a complete waste of money. Decisions to use the port are not made or influenced by a free meal at Berns, an expensive bottle of wine and several fine cigars."

We also compared Wainio's credit card spending to Anderson's.   

Wainio's credit card expenses totaled about $25 thousand during his last 2 years.

Anderson racked up more than $80 thousand in the last 2 years (not including 2017).

We also discovered Anderson's top aides making at least $100 thousand a year almost double what Wainio had (31 compared to 18).

The difference in upper level salaries is costing taxpayers an extra $2.3 million a year for Anderson's team.

Reporter:"Under your watch you have twice the number as the previous director why?"
Anderson: "We grew our marketing department significantly."

Anderson's executive salaries average higher than other Florida ports like Miami, Port Everglades, and Jacksonville.

Robert Marley is Associate Director of the Center for Ethics at the University of Tampa's Business School, he also teaches accounting.

He says, "As an accountant the numbers you're throwing about do make me cringe...I definitely think you've unveiled some interesting issues here and that they're worth looking into further."

After looking at our findings Marley says there may not be an effective management review of expenses at the port.

Marley says, "Given this level of expenditures what benefit is the port receiving in return? There needs to be a return on the investment."

According to port's officials, their weak 2016 performance wasn't par for the course.

The port was down in cargo containers, cruise ship arrivals and passengers, and operating revenue dropped by $2 million.

The I-Team previously revealed Port Tampa Bay lags way behind smaller ports like Jacksonville, Port everglades and Miami in cargo container traffic.

All while taxpayers are paying Anderson one of the highest port salaries in the country. Higher than port directors in New York, and L.A., which handle millions of containers a year compared to Anderson's $39 thousand last recorded in 2015 by the Army Corps of Engineers.

See our original investigation here: http://wfts.tv/2tvMXg9

The I-Team got a copy of Anderson's contract.

Along with his $382 thousand a year salary, his contract states he gets an additional $50 thousand a year dumped into his retirement fund. He also gets $850 a month in car expenses.

His salary is set by the Port's board which includes Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman.

Anderson says the board has directed him to spend more on marketing.

We saw these comments in their public meetings:

"It takes money to make money" says board member Patrick Allman who believes "the port needs to be run like a business".
"You're doing everything right...Charge on... Keep on doing what you're doing", says board member Gregory Celestan

Anderson defends himself saying the state and federal grant money the port hauls in is up 40 percent in his 4 years.

He says the bottom line has improved under his watch.

Reporter: "And the spending culture. How much of it is the board and how much of it is you?"
Anderson: "I would ugh Jarrod let me if you will-it's an investment culture. You invest in your future."

In justifying his spending, Anderson says the year before he took over in 2012, the port brought in $43.6 million dollars in operating revenue. Anderson brought in $49.2 million last year in operating revenue.

He tells us he's expecting to bring in $58 million this year, but we confirmed that is an estimate at the time this story aired.

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Jarrod Holbrook is an Emmy and AP Award-winning Investigative Reporter for the ABC Action News I-Team. Do you have a story idea? Contact Jarrod on FacebookTwitter, or via email at jarrod.holbrook@wfts.com.

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