Armed with fresh documents (links below) that show online travel companies may have conspired to avoid paying more than $440 million in taxes in Florida, a state legislator is urging Attorney General Pam Bondi to force the travel giants to pay up.
The issue has been the focus of legal and political fights for years as counties and hotel companies have fought the online companies that sell unused hotel rooms to travelers looking for deals. Counties argue that the companies should pay tourist development taxes on the total cost of the room charged to customers. The online travel companies say they should only pay taxes on the negotiated rate they pay the hotels — not on what they keep in profit.
Former Attorney General Bill McCollum sued Expedia and Orbitz in 2009 for unfair trade practices. But Bondi, who succeeded him in January, put the lawsuit on hold during the legislative session as lawmakers attempted to exempt the travel companies from paying the additional taxes, said Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis.
The bill died, but Bondi has neither revived the stalled lawsuit nor started her own investigation.Download Fla+Atty+General+Bill+McCollum+lawsuit+vs+dot+coms
In a May 17 letter to Bondi, Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, urged her to prosecute the companies based on newly-discovered company documents. The documents show that lawyers for the companies advised their clients since 2003 to “make it as difficult as possible for any state to require us to collect occupancy tax” until they could change the laws to exempt them from paying it. Download Kriseman_letter_to_Atty_Gen_Bondi_-_online_travel_resellers
Full story here.
Internal company documents and special masters reports here: Download 2003 01 28 Memo to USA Interactive; Download 2003 01 31 Memo to Expedia; Download 2003 07 28 MSB Occupancy Tax Analysis; Download 2006 03 30 Pennsylvania DOR response to John Allan; Download 2008 10 02 Georgia DOR letter; Download 2008 12 03 Columbus GA (Orbitz) Report of Special Master crime fraud order; Download 2009 08 21 EXPEDIA - Report of Special Master.