Clintons’ buddy sued over plane trips

Sen. Hillary Clinton (AP)A longtime Clinton benefactor used corporate jets to fly the former president and Hillary Rodham Clinton on business, personal and campaign trips that a lawsuit brands as wasteful company spending.

The supporter, Vinod Gupta, also secured contracts worth more than $3 million for Bill Clinton to provide consulting services to Gupta's Nebraska-based company, infoUSA, from 2003 through 2008, according to the suit.

Since 2002, Gupta spent $900,000 flying the former president to international locations on presidential foundation business and flying Hillary Clinton, a Democratic senator from New York, to political events.

The suit, filed by infoUSA shareholders last year, claims those expenses as well as millions of others unrelated to the Clintons were a "serial misuse of corporate assets and resources." The Clintons are not a party to the suit.

Details of the suit were first reported in February by The Deal, a business publication. Accounts also appeared in Saturday's New York Times and Washington Post.

The suit names only a "former high-ranking official" and his wife. But campaign aides and company officials confirmed for the publications that the reference is to the Clintons.

Messages left Saturday with lawyers for infoUSA and for Dolphin Limited Partnership, a hedge fund that brought the suit, were not immediately returned Saturday. Stamford, Conn.-based Dolphin owns 3.6 percent of infoUSA stock.

"All flights were reimbursed and disclosed in accordance with the prevailing FEC (Federal Election Commission) and Senate ethics rules," said Phil Singer, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

A message left for the former president's spokesman was not immediately returned Saturday.

The suit offers a glimpse into the personal and political relationships between the Clintons and a contributor who was willing to spend more than $145,000 to fly himself and the Clintons to Acapulco, Mexico, on a vacation in 2002.

Gupta has been a major donor to Democrats over the years and especially prominent as a Clinton fundraiser. He was rewarded with a night in the White House's Lincoln bedroom during Clinton's presidency. He also donated at least $1 million to Bill Clinton's presidential library in Little Rock., Ark.

According to FEC records, Gupta-controlled entities provided jets for Hillary Clinton at least seven times since 2002. Clinton's campaigns or other political committees paid the equivalent of first-class air fare for those trips, a fee required by law but a significant discount compared with the actual cost of charter jet service.

It is unclear whether Gupta provided jets for Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign.

Aides to Clinton have said she paid approximately $450,000 for flights during the first three months of her campaign and that she paid full charter fare. Those expenses will not be detailed until her next financial report, which must be filed on July 15.

Gupta also has donated $19,500 to her Senate campaign, presidential campaign and her political action committee since 2001, according to FEC records.

Before suing, Dolphin had tried unsuccessfully to place three directors on the infoUSA board.

Both in its suit and in its quest to alter the board, Dolphin has maintained that Gupta squandered company money not only on the Clintons but on a stadium skybox and on a private yacht with an all-female crew.

In documents Gupta has defended his spending, noting he paid for the skybox at the University of Nebraska's stadium out of his own pocket and then transferred it to infoUSA.

In a letter to directors in 2005 he argued that the boat and the skybox are used to entertain large customers and top performing employees.

InfoUSA is a marketing information company that provides electronic, print and data processing services to its clients.

The company has come under scrutiny not only for Gupta's spending habits. The Times reported last week that customer data sold by the company had been used by thieves to bilk older people. The company said it would take steps to assure such a sale would not occur again.