Gov. Charlie Crist tailgated and watched this year's Super Bowl in Tampa, then boarded a 10-seat corporate jet the next morning for a quick trip back to Tallahassee, his schedule shows.
He flew courtesy of Dr. Steven M. Scott, of Boca Raton, founder of a large HMO and a hospital physician network.
Crist regularly flies on the private jets of wealthy businessmen, the Sun Sentinel found, but the governor won't disclose the details.
Over the past two years, Crist's calendar shows about 100 occasions when he was scheduled to fly in or out of private air terminals to get to the capital, concerts, dinners, sporting events, political appearances and stays in St. Petersburg and South Florida.
Crist's office would not reveal who paid for specific flights or answer questions about them, despite the governor's vow of transparency when he took office. "Our constitution requires that our government be open and transparent," Crist said in his January 2007 inaugural address. "And under my administration it will be like never before."
Years ago, as a state senator, Crist took aim at then-Gov. Lawton Chiles for accepting about 30 flights on private jets to watch football games or go turkey hunting. Chiles later reimbursed the planes' owners more than $7,000. "The whole thing smells," Crist said at the time, calling for elected officials to fully disclose private flights.
Now, as governor, Crist is mum about his own extensive use of private planes.
His office declined a request for an interview. A spokeswoman would say only that the governor follows travel guidelines and does not use state resources for trips that mix official, personal and political business.
Some say that's not enough of an explanation.
"The governor should be forthcoming and explain who it was who provided these planes and what the purpose was, or at least that there was no public business and no expectation of favors in return," said University of Florida law professor Joseph Little.
The wingmen Florida makes two state planes available to Crist and other high-level officials around the clock, at a cost to taxpayers of $3.5 million a year. In the past two years, Crist has flown more than 270 times on state planes, which can only be used for government business.
For personal or political trips, Crist has to take commercial or private planes.
Since January 2007, Crist has taken 31 commercial flights, according to his schedule. His calendar shows the details of 11 private flights, including the tail number, owner and pilot names.
On 124 other occasions, the schedules either have Crist arriving in short time spans at events in distant cities without any reference to a flight, or show only a destination, time and private air terminal. All other information is listed as "TBD," or to be determined.
The governor's office said it had no records with complete flight details, even though his staff and security detail need the information to plan his trips in advance.
Using online flight-tracking records, the Sun Sentinel compared dates, times and destinations of the governor's travel to the routes of private planes. The newspaper identified 82 flights that corresponded to Crist's itineraries.
Scott heads a medical investment company and founded an HMO that took in more than $230 million from the state from 2005 to 2008 under a contract to provide health care to state workers and retirees. In January 2008, the governor appointed Scott to the University of Florida's board of trustees.
Sargeant is a college fraternity brother of Crist's and former state Republican Party finance chairman. His companies have an oil operations lease at the Port of Tampa and Pentagon fuel contracts totaling more than $1.4 billion. Last month, one of Sargeant's corporate salesmen was indicted in Los Angeles for steering illegal campaign contributions to Crist and others.
Crist's schedule shows that he has also flown on the corporate Falcon jet of Mori Hosseini, a prominent Daytona Beach developer and Republican Party contributor.
Sargeant and Hosseini could not be reached despite messages left at their offices. Scott's office referred questions to a public relations firm that did not provide comment.
On dozens of occasions, schedules show private planes taking Crist to and from St. Petersburg, where he has a condo on Tampa Bay, and South Florida, where his new bride has a home on Miami's Fisher Island.
The schedules also have Crist flying to a Sheryl Crow concert in Gainesville, a golf tournament hosted by Donald Trump, and a James Bond-inspired March of Dimes Fundraiser at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach.
On a Thursday afternoon earlier this month, Scott's plane brought Crist from Tallahassee to Clewiston, on the edge of Lake Okeechobee. U.S. Sugar executives and South Florida water officials were in crucial talks there over a stalled $1.34 billion deal to restore the Everglades: a prime Crist initiative.
Crist told the Sun Sentinel he was not there for the talks but was taking personal time to show his wife the Everglades. The governor's calendar was empty that afternoon and made no mention of the flight.
At the Clewiston airport, Crist's bodyguard told a Sun Sentinel photographer to leave the tarmac, saying the governor did not want to be photographed exiting the plane.
A spokeswoman for the governor said Crist paid for the flight "according to law," but declined to say how much or provide proof of payment.
Who pays? Crist can pay for private flights out of his own pocket without any public disclosure — and at a considerably reduced cost. Florida law allows elected officials to pay for private flights at commercial rates. The governor's office did not provide records of any payments by Crist for the more than 100 private flights.
The planes' owners could provide the flights to Crist as gifts, but he would have to list them with the Florida Ethics Commission. Crist has not reported receiving gifts of any kind as governor.
Campaign committees and political parties can pay for flights if they have a political purpose.
The Republican Party of Florida reported more than $200,000 worth of air travel reimbursements and "in-kind" donations for flights from companies connected to Sargeant, Scott and Hosseini in the past two years, according to state and federal campaign reports.
The purpose of the trips and names of passengers are not reported. It's unclear how many were related to Crist's travel, but the dates of the GOP contributions match the governor's schedule for 19 of the private flights on his calendar.
In one instance, on Valentine's Day last year, a company managed by Sargeant donated a private flight valued at $386 to the state Republican Party, federal campaign finance reports state. Crist's calendar shows him flying that day from Tallahassee to Miami, where he met with the ambassador of Ireland for 30 minutes. State Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer would not identify the political purpose of that trip or any other. The party has never arranged a flight for Crist solely to commute between St. Petersburg, Tallahassee or Miami, Greer said.
"If there is an in-kind contribution to the party, then I make a determination that there is a direct or indirect benefit to the party," Greer said. Such benefits include fundraisers, meetings with Republican leaders, grass-roots networking and relationship building, he said.
In November, Skyview Aviation in Orlando flew Crist round trip to California to attend a climate summit hosted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Greer said the company offered the flight as an in-kind donation, but he rejected it because he was unfamiliar with Skyview. Instead, the party sent the company $39,000.
Pete Benevides, an Orlando real estate investor who owns Skyview, said he was surprised to receive the check and never cashed it because the company does not have a federal certificate to carry paying passengers. Benevides said the flight actually cost far more: $60,000.
"I thought I was helping our state by getting our governor back and forth to do whatever he does,"he said.
Skyview received other requests to fly the governor, Benevides said, explaining that someone on behalf of Crist would call and say: "Hey, do you want to do a trip for the governor?"
The plane that took Crist to California was a Canadair CL-600 Challenger.
"It's like driving a Bentley ... 14 seats with a bed in the back, plasma TVs ... It had a bar full of liquor," Benevides said "It was a nice airplane. Real nice."
Database editor John Maines contributed to this report. Megan O'Matz can be reached at momatz@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4518.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times