Adm. James Stavridis / Manuel Balce Ceneta AP
WASHINGTON - The U.S. military's top officer in Europe used a military plane to fly him and his wife to France for an exclusive party with top wine-makers and lovers, a violation of rules on using government property for private activities, according to the Pentagon's inspector general.
Adm. James Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, maintained that the trip to the Burgundy region of France included meetings with French military officials and was thus part of his official duties.
The report is the second this year that criticized the military's most senior officers for abusing the privileges of their offices. Army Gen. Kip Ward, the former head of Africa Command, spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for private travel on military aircraft and stays at luxury hotels, the inspector general found in a report released in June. Ward also accepted free meals and tickets to a Broadway show in violation of federal rules.
Stavridis is the military's top officer in Europe, overseeing military operations from the continent to Israel. As Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, he helps oversee the coalition's war operations in Afghanistan. He also oversaw the alliance's air war in Libya.
On May 8, 2010, Stavridis traveled to Dijon, France, to attend a ceremony sponsored by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (the Brotherhood), an international society of Burgundy wine enthusiasts dating to 1934, the inspector general noted. He was inducted in the Brotherhood, a private organization that promotes the wines, food, customs and traditions of the Burgundy region.
Stavridis, his wife and several staff members flew from his post in Belgium to Dijon, France, aboard a C-37, which is a Gulfstream V business jet outfitted for the military.
Stavridis accepted the invitation to the Brotherhood, according to his response to the inspector general, because the ceremony included top statesmen, military and business leaders. He also noted that France's top military officer had invited him, although the inspector general's investigators could find no record of that.
The admiral told investigators that he gave a speech in French at the event on the importance of the NATO alliance.
"We do not contend that Adm. Stavridis' attendance was not beneficial to NATO and the United States," the inspector general report found. "We are not persuaded that those benefits justified his attendance at the event in an official status."
The inspector general concluded that Stavridis, his wife and other staffers reimburse the government for the cost of the flight. It also recommended the Pentagon take "corrective action" against him.
The report also found excessive spending on cellphones by the admiral's staff and the failure by some to fully reimburse for personal calls. Three staff members had annual usage fees in 2010 of more than $17,000 each, including the top cellphone spender at $32,860.26.
An official admonished staffers about their cellphone expenditures in an e-mail, obtained by the inspector general.
"In closing, I need to remind everyone that we all have a fiscal responsibility to use our Taxpayer's funds appropriately," the unnamed official wrote. "Think of these devices as you would if you were paying the bill, when it comes to usage and time duration of calls."
The Pentagon had no comment Friday on the report.
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