Investigation Reveals Google Executives Dodged Taxes On Planes Based At Moffett Field In Sweetheart Deal

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SANTA MONICA, CA — Google’s top executives avoided paying millions of dollars in local property taxes on their fleet of aircraft based at NASA’s Moffett Field, as well as bought government fuel substantially below market price, a new investigative report shows.  Consumer Watchdog today said the U.S. Attorney should investigate.

Consumer Watchdog raised questions in 2011 about the sweetheart deal with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that allows the Google executives’ aircraft to be based at Moffett Field because they perform science missions for NASA. A new report Monday night by NBC Bay Area’s investigative reporters Stephen Stock, Kevin Nious and Jeremy Carroll revealed new details of how the Google executives benefitted: They got access to the airfield, which is not generally open to private aircraft, bought fuel substantially below market prices and avoided paying millions in property taxes.

“These Google billionaires are gallivanting around the world on the taxpayers’ dime and dodging local taxes,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.  “It’s beyond outrageous.  The U.S. Attorney needs to investigate to see if laws were broken and hold those responsible accountable.”

H211, a company owned by Google CEO Larry Page, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin, has seven aircraft including a Boeing 767, a Boeing 757, four Gulfstream Vs and two helicopters at Moffett Field at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

NASA’s Inspector General is auditing the deal and as of Aug. 31, the Department of Defense stopped selling jet fuel to the Google executives’ planes.

“NASA can’t be trusted to investigate itself,” said Simpson. “That’s why the U.S. Attorney must open an independent investigation.”

See the NBC report here:

See Consumer Watchdog’s report, “Lost in the Cloud: Google and the U.S. Government,” here:

Here are some details from the NBC investigative report:

— Because the Google executives’ planes are kept on a federal facility they cannot be assessed for Santa Clara County property taxes.  Assessor Lawrence Stone estimates taxes could amount up to $400,000 or $500,000 per plane a year.

— Only 155 out of more than 1,039 flights were actually used for science.

— Fuel records examined by NBC show the planes used below-market-rate fuel to fly to exotic places around the world, such as Paris, London, Cancun, Scotland, Puerto Vallarta, St. John, Hawaii, Liberia and Tahiti.

— Nearly $8 million worth of jet fuel that sold for as little as $1.68 a gallon was put into a fleet of seven different airplanes and two helicopters. The same jet fuel sells for two to four-and-a-half times that amount, up to $8.05 a gallon, at fixed-base operators at nearby airports in the Bay Area.

— Last summer Rep. Anna Eshoo told NBC: “People in the community that care the most about what happens at the airfield have signed off on this. Why? Because they are a partner with NASA in terms of scientific research. I think this is something that is celebrated in my congressional district. This is not a favor in any way shape or form.”

She declined to go on camera for Monday’s NBC report, but her staff says she now supports the ongoing audit by NASA’s Inspector General’s and that, “If it’s found that the federal government was short-changed, H211 should make good on the difference.”

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John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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