Government

State audit questions ISU plane purchase

School's craft often used by campus leader for his pilot training

A Cirrus SR22, then owned by Iowa State University and piloted by ISU President Steven Leath, sustained wing damage, above, during a hard landing in July 2015 at the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Ill. (Photo from Central Illinois Regional Airport)
A Cirrus SR22, then owned by Iowa State University and piloted by ISU President Steven Leath, sustained wing damage, above, during a hard landing in July 2015 at the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Ill. (Photo from Central Illinois Regional Airport)
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DES MOINES — Iowa State University officials are defending the use of donations to purchase an airplane used by then-President Steven Leath to meet pilot training requirements, a question raised in a report Tuesday by State Auditor Mary Mosiman’s office.

In their response to the auditor’s findings, ISU officials refute an assertion that the state university in Ames failed to get permission from the Iowa Board of Regents executive director to buy the plane for $498,000 with ISU Foundation funds. ISU officials said the purchase met the “allowability” test of complying with donor intent. and was run through the board office for approval. Full board approval was not required for purchases of equipment costing less than $1 million, according to the ISU response to the audit.

The audit noted evidence of approval was only a memo signed by an ISU business and finance vice president, stating the board office was informed of the purchase and approved of proceeding. But written approval by the regents’ executive director “was not obtained.”

Auditors said they found no requirement that the university president to be a licensed pilot, but that 52 of 76 trips in which the Cirrus SR-22 plane was used to log nearly 265 flight hours after its July 2014 purchase involved activities related to pilot training and instrument rating for Leath — who since left to become president of Auburn University.

“Based on the limited use of the Cirrus SR-22 for flights with clear business purposes, we question whether the purchase served a university purpose,” according to the audit.

Auditors also concluded ISU should consider seeking reimbursement from Leath for a March 2016 trip in which he was flown to his North Carolina home.

In its response, ISU officials said Leath was the most experienced university-approved pilot on the Cirrus SR22 and provided oversight for another full-time pilot’s training compliance during that flight.

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“While President Leath did also receive a benefit from this flight, being transported to North Carolina, neither internal audit nor the State Auditor have identified any additional cost to the university from the fact that the full-time pilot’s IFR compliance flight was taken to North Carolina rather than some other random location,” according to the ISU response.

University officials noted that Leath subsequently made a payment to the school of $14,575, which represented the cost of 55 hours of training on the Cirrus at $265.00 per hour. They also noted that he additionally made payments of several thousand dollars for flights “that had a mixed business/personal purpose” and concluded no further reimbursement was required.

The audit, which is available on the auditor’s website, noted the university sold the plane last June for $450,000, which was 90 percent of its purchase price.

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