UCF Foundation Pays for Private Jet Rides, State Legislature Investigates

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The UCF Foundation has released its top 100 travel expenses after being called under review by state legislators.

UCF President John Hitt, former SGA President Cait Zona, and Vice President Grant Heston, among others, took a private jet that cost $3,875 to fly to Atlanta, GA in search of an athletic director, according to the report.

Former SGA president Cait Zona also flew on a private jet with University officials to Miami for the Board of Trustees Summit, a trip that cost $1,944.

Another of those expenses is a $1470.87 private jet ride, taken by UCF Vice President Grant Heston, Rick Shell, and others to the Florida Board of Governors meeting in Tallahassee, records show.

The 2016 Florida BOG meeting began at 3:30 p.m. on March 16, and ended at 11:45 a.m. March 17, according to the media archives of the event.

Charges such as this one came to light after Knight News reported that the UCF Foundation’s travel expenses had been called under review by Florida state legislators.

In a letter to the university from the state of Florida, state representative Carlos Trujillo requested “detailed information about the revenues and expenditures of the universities of Florida,” and that the foundation release details of its budget including how much money is donated by alumni, the amount of student aid provided, faculty salaries, and its top 100 travel expenses.

In the letter Trujillo states, “Your input will be integral to determining whether our State Universities are utilizing taxpayer dollars to their highest and best use.”

Knight News only acquired these documents after the Florida Legislature informed the University that these travel expenses were public record, after the University had previously tried to argue that the UCF Foundation was a private entity, and thus did not have to release its records.

In a letter from Chairman Trujillo to the University, Trujillo stated:

“A review of the information provided in your fiscal summaries to the House indicates that all of that information, aside from any identification of donors, either 1) came from or were included in an auditor’s report, management letter, or supplemental data provided to the Board of Governors, your university’s board of trustees, or OPPAGA; or 2) related to the receipt or expenditure of public funds—including the receipt or expenditure of funds transferred from the university. In either case, that information is not confidential and is not otherwise exempt, and that information may be disclosed by the House.”

The University released these records to Knight News after receiving this letter.

Knight News has been involved in an ongoing legal battle with UCF for the release of certain public records, including SGA president travel records.

The attorney representing Knight News in its open government lawsuits, Justin Hemlepp, had this to say about the recent discovery of the documents:

“For more than three years, we have listened to UCF complain that Knight News’s efforts to force UCF to cough up public records were a drain on scarce public resources. Now, having reviewed the records of this Florida House investigation of UCF’s expenses, we see that university employees and even student government officials are traveling around on private jets.

“Expenditures like this are why our state’s open government laws are so important, so the public can decide for itself whether paying for things like private jets is worthwhile.”

Knight News asked UCF for details on its private jet policy, or if it had one at all, but has not immediately heard back.

Second House Appropriations Request – Detail of travel

UCF Foundation 23 FEB 17

UCF Letter 2017 01 23

FL House of Representatives – Appropriations Committee

Response – House Appropriations Request-2