ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota’s Lottery Director abruptly resigned Friday amid growing questions about his taxpayer-funded travel expenses.

Ed Van Petten was reimbursed $7,390.50 in travel expenses, even though he stayed in his personal timeshare units during conferences around the country.

Now, some state lawmakers are calling for an investigation, and Minnesota finance officials are reviewing other expenses for Van Petten and his staff.

Van Petten had a rocky relationship with state lawmakers during his three and a half years on the job, pushing hard to expand the games online. Governor Mark Dayton was a strong supporter, until now.

“Any spending that is not within the strict accord and the rules and laws of the state of Minnesota is unacceptable,” Dayton said.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune first reported the investigation, revealing Van Petten and his staff billed the state for staying in Van Petten’s personal time share units at gaming industry conferences in Las Vegas, New Orleans and Atlantic City.

Van Petten says time shares actually cost less than hotel rooms, and saved the state money. Even so, some lawmakers want an audit of all lottery expenses. In a written statement, the Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt linked lottery expenses to double-digit salary hikes for Dayton commissioners.

“After approving enormous salary increases for commissioners earlier this year and the news today, Gov. Dayton and Lt. Gov. Smith need to prove to Minnesotans that they have controls in place to prevent their hand-picked department heads from inappropriately spending taxpayer dollars,” Daudt said in the statement.

“Grow up, kids,” said a visibly angry Dayton, accusing state politicians and the media of “nitpicking” to find “bad news” stories. “Is this some indication of some systematic failure of fiscal oversight in the state of Minnesota? I would say absolutely not. Absolutely not.”

Meanwhile, two state lawmakers, Republican State Representative Steve Drazkowski and Democratic State Senator John Marty, are calling for the Minnesota Legislative Auditor to open an investigation.

“We want to find out what happened here,” said Drazkowski. “These kind of things should not happen in state government.”

They want to see if there are other questionable expenses by the Director or his staff.

The Minnesota Lottery gives away hundreds of millions of dollars in prizes every year. Since 1990, when it was established, the Lottery has transferred $2.4 Billion dollars into the state treasury for state programs.

Pat Kessler

Comments