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Watkins didn’t attend the game with the person he said he had. When I talked to him in July about the expense, he told me he’d taken a member of the British Parliament. He said they sat on the 5-yard line. At the time, he said this:
The tickets that I got were for myself and a member of Parliament over there who essentially is involved in airport security and as a result of that particular activity, we then met with a number of other people who were involved in England’s — Great Britain’s airports — Stanstead and Heathrow, so it was a business expense, not a junket.
Diana Lucero, an authority spokeswoman, said that Watkins actually took James R. Burrows, then the CEO of Litelogic, a British company that puts LED advertisements on buses and that had interest in doing business in San Diego.
Lucero wrote in an e-mail:
Mr. Paul Keetch (member of Parliament) was invited but had to cancel at the last minute. Mr. Watkins told you he invited a member of Parliament to the game, but did not clarify who actually attended. This was not corrected after your article appeared on July 9 because we did not know otherwise until the recent media inquiry and we asked Mr. Watkins for the name.
The football game was among a litany of expenses submitted by airport officials that we wrote about last month. The expenses, which included dinners and lunches together, violated airport authority policy.
Lucero said Watkins had repaid the $1,200 for the game because “he believed this issue was too much of a distraction and wanted the Airport Authority to move forward with its business of providing transportation services to the traveling public.” She didn’t explain why Watkins forgot who he took to the game.
In a letter to Thella Bowens, the authority’s president, Watkins said that repaying the authority for the tickets was in the authority’s best interests. He wrote:
Thella: Attached please find my personal check for $1,200 as reimbursement to the Authority for tickets purchased relating to the World Trade Center Mission to the London (sic) last fall. These tickets were purchased as part of the trade mission package by the Authority in support of business development activities for the Authority, and the San Diego Region for which I was asked to participate in.
It should be noted that the activity in question was within the policy and procedures of the Authority, however for the best interests of the Authority I again offer my reimbursement check.
For future reference, it maybe (sic) wise to change the Authority’s policy to limit the use of Authority funds on Athletic Events as not have these issues (sic) be perceived as a misuse of “public” funds.
The authority is a public agency and it gets much of its revenue from fees paid by the traveling public. It has been reviewing its travel and expense reimbursement policies and plans to discuss the issues our coverage raised when it meets in October.