May 10, 2007 at 1:00 am

Nonprofit defends Kilpatrick's $8,600 vacation tab

Kilpatrick Civic Fund: $8,600 vacation at Calif. resort, which it claims was for fundraising, is legal.

DETROIT -- A weeklong, $8,600 vacation for Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his family to a premier California resort last summer was paid for by a nonprofit foundation he formed that is controlled by his sister and friends.

The mayor also briefly charged $1,200 of the hotel visit to his city credit card, but that fee was later reversed and put on his personal credit card.

Kilpatrick Civic Fund officials said Wednesday they did nothing illegal but refused to divulge who has supported the fund -- which received more than $500,000 in donations last year -- how its money is spent or whether Kilpatrick had previously benefited from the organization.

Kilpatrick's family vacation to the resort and who paid for the trip were first reported Tuesday by WXYZ-TV (Channel 7).

On a 2006 Internal Revenue Service disclosure completed Wednesday, more than half of the fund's revenue, $270,368, went to pay for "conferences, conventions and meetings."

Under "fundraising" on the expenses portion of the fund's 990 tax form, the amount listed was 0, WXYZ first reported.

The mayor's press secretary, Matt Allen, explained that the trip expenses, however, were included under "Miscellaneous" on the form's 43F line, where $13,354 was listed.

Allen said the expense was listed there instead of under "Fundraising" because Kilpatrick is not a professional fundraiser.

"That's not his job," Allen said.

Fund officials said they paid the hotel bill because Kilpatrick was working to generate donations during the trip.

"He's a wonderful fundraiser, and the board felt this was appropriate," said William Phillips, fund secretary and a longtime Kilpatrick supporter.

Phillips wouldn't say if the mayor raised any money during the California trip. He also wouldn't disclose with whom, if anyone, he met to justify the roughly $1,228 per night, which included tax and fees, the group paid for two rooms at the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad.

Kilpatrick and wife, Carlita, stayed in a $625-per-night suite, and their three sons stayed in a $450 resort room, according to the invoice. The Kilpatricks also paid about $1,200 in out-of-pocket expenses that include a $305 spa visit and time at the resort's water park.

The mayor's chief of staff, Christine Beatty, who is the fund's treasurer, said there was nothing improper about the group paying for Kilpatrick's visit.

"This was not done with taxpayer dollars, this was not done with public money," said Beatty. "The mayor has pledged to have a transparent administration and he is doing that."

She acknowledged the fundraising trip dove-tailed with the Kilpatricks' annual family outing before his kids began school.

Kilpatrick was dogged in his first term by liberal use of his city-backed credit card. He now puts less than $2,000 a month on the card for city-related expenses.

Allen said the mayor's administrative assistant, who handled parts of the trip, did not have the mayor's personal credit card number, and the mayor had to later change that billing information for the resort rooms.

Meanwhile, Beatty alleged Channel 7 reporter Steve Wilson impersonated the mayor over the phone and illegally obtained copies of hotel invoices and other documents, including a copy of the check the civic fund used to pay for the hotel room. She said a criminal investigation has been launched.

Wilson said he did nothing illegal or unethical in obtaining a copy of the hotel bill and a copy of the check the Kilpatrick Civic Fund used to pay for the two resort rooms.

The Kilpatrick Civic Fund, created in 1999, drew scrutiny when Kilpatrick was running for office in 2001, when it was revealed John Rutherford, a Highland Park homeless shelter operator, made a $50,000 donation to the group in 2000.

Kilpatrick, then a state House member, later wrote a letter to the board that oversees the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Agency recommending that Rutherford's homeless shelter get a contract from the agency. Rutherford's business got the $22.7 million contract. In April 2006, Rutherford was indicted for diverting money from his nonprofit for personal use.

Beatty said the group has financially helped Detroit Public Schools and marching bands, but she declined to give details of who benefited from the fund or who supported it.

Detroit News Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report. You can reach David Josar at (313) 222-2073 or djosar@detnews.com">djosar@detnews.com.

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