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Statehouse Beat: Travels with Angela Mascia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At various times this year, the press has written about state officials commuting on the taxpayers' dime, including former DHHR acting secretary Rocco Fucillo, acting Juvenile Services director Stephanie Bond, and Workforce West Virginia assistant director Claudia George.

However, one state employee puts their commuting to shame -- and unlike the others, there's no question that she has permission from her bosses for her travels.

During the governor's video teleconference from the state's new European trade office at the Zurich World Trade Center in Switzerland (the state shuttered its old trade office in Munich, Germany in 2012), Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said the Development Office initially would not staff the office with a full-time director, but said international economic development representative Angela Mascia, who participated in the trade mission, would be spending part of her time in the Zurich office.

In fact, so far in calendar 2013, Mascia has wracked up $20,654 in expenses, with expenses for the October trade mission trip not yet reported to the state auditor's office.

That includes previous two-week trips to Europe in April and June.

While the expenses reported to the auditor show $4,383 in expenses for the April trip and $3,647 for the June trip, the actual costs were $8,048 and $9,040, with airfare and other expenses on each trip listed as "charged to agency ghost account."

(The ghost account, I was informed, sounds more exotic than it really is. The state Travel Management Office has a corporate account set up with National Travel Service. Rather than bill each state agency individually, National Travel bills the Travel Management Office, which subsequently gets reimbursed by the agencies. Bottom line, those costs don't show up on the individual's expense reports.)

The spring trip ran April 14-28, and including stays in Frankfurt, Germany, and Milan, Florence and Rome, Italy. Total expenses included:

* $1,536 for airfare (Charleston to Frankfurt via Washington, Frankfurt to Milan, and Rome to Charleston also via D.C.)

* $600 for rail fares, $500 for taxis and ground transportation, $788 for car rentals. (These figures might seem inflated, but remember, the U.S. dollar to Euro exchange rate is brutal ... )

* $3,950 for lodging for 10 nights (staying exclusively at Marriotts or affiliated hotels). Mascia indicated she kept the lodging costs down by staying with family for the three nights in Naples.

* $2,102 for meals. Interestingly, instead of turning in receipts, Mascia is allowed to charge the federal per-diem rate for meals set by the State Department. On this trip, the per-diem ranged from $140 in Frankfurt to $197 a day in Milan.

* $1,700 for miscellaneous expenses, including baggage fees, Internet charges, laundry, guest meals, and gas for the rental car. Mascia also got reimbursed $101.50 for 14 days' long-term parking at Yeager Airport. (Wouldn't it have been cheaper for somebody from the Development Office to give her a lift to the airport?)

*

Mascia's June 2-16 trip included stays in Frankfort and Stuttgart, Germany, and Venice, Verona, Naples and Rome, Italy.

That trip totaled $8,048, with $2,565 for airfare (in addition to flying to and from Europe, the trip included Frankfurt-Stuttgart, and Stuttgart-Venice flights), $2,068 for lodging (again, staying with family and friends while in Naples), $1,414 for meals (using federal per-diem rates ranging from $105 in Verona to $160 in Naples), and $1,500 for miscellaneous (including another $100 for long-term parking at Yeager).

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Closer to home, Mascia turned in $805.11 in expenses for an overnight trip to Wheeling July 31.

The biggest cost was $561 (discounted from a total tab of $713) for dinner for six "confidential clients" at The Pointe restaurant at the Wheeling Island casino.

Prior to the discount, the meals cost $575, along with a sizable bar tab. That included three bottles of Ravenswood Zinfandel ($90), three martinis ($24), two Jim Beams ($12), a Jameson whisky ($8), a Macallan 12 scotch ($10), plus three beers ($12). (Now that we're all three sheets, let's talk business ... )

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Unlike the governor's European trade mission, the entourage for the state Senate's trip to Taiwan is small. The only person on the Taiwanese government-sponsored trip besides Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, and Sen. Bob Williams, D-Taylor, is Steve McElroy, special assistant to the president.

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Finally, Keith Judd, the Texas federal prison inmate who won his 15 minutes of fame by picking up 41 percent of the vote in the state's 2012 Democratic presidential primary, recently completed his 171/2-year sentence for extortion.

Don't expect a victory tour of West Virginia anytime soon, however. Seems he got pinched for a probation violation earlier this month, and has a probation revocation hearing set for Nov. 18 in federal magistrate court in Midland, Texas.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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