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Kriseman draws subpoena for tough talk against online travel companies

Rep. Rick Kriseman, the St. Petersburg Democrat who has mounted a crusade to get online travel companies to pay what he believes they owe the state in tourist taxes has been subpoenaed by Orbitz and Priceline to give a video deposition for two lawsuits pending in Broward and Osceola counties. Download Rick Subpoena

The subpoena asks Kriseman, and his aide David Flintom, to submit to a video deposition in St. Petersburg on Nov. 4 but does not indicate what they will be asked about. Broward is suing Orbitz and Osceola County is suing Priceline in a widening dispute over whether the companies owe the state current and back taxes for when they sell hotel rooms to customers.

The companies pay taxes only on the lower, discounted price they pay for the rooms and not on the rate charged to customers. Counties argue that state law requires the companies to pay tourist taxes owed on the difference. The Florida Department of Revenue has refused to push the issue, arguing the law is vague. Numerous attempts to clarify the law by passing legislation have failed to pass in recent years.

Kriseman believes the subpoenas are intended to intimidate him. "They may not like the fact that I’ve been pretty vocal and sent copies of their records around to my colleagues,'' he said.

Last spring, Kriseman obtained copies of internal company documents from Expedia that showed the online travel company attempted for years to skirt paying Florida sales taxes, even though their lawyers and accountants had advised them that they were obligated to pay.

A Broward judge ruled last summer that the documents cannot be admitted into the record for the case pending there and a lobbyist for the online travel companies blasted Kriseman's efforts to release the documents as a smear campaign.