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Airport won't provide Maktoum guards

Blue Grass Airport public safety officers won't be guarding a plane that carried at least one member of the royal family of Dubai to Lexington on Friday.

In 2007 and 2008, the airport provided security for VIP planes parked at the airport, including those belonging to the Maktoum family of Dubai. But now, in light of a spending scandal at the airport, officials have stopped the practice.

"Clearly, with everything that's happened in the last year, we think it's probably more prudent to have them to hire their own law enforcement staff," Blue Grass Airport interim executive director Eric Frankl said. "Our public safety folks are here for the law enforcement and the firefighting for the airport in general," and not for a specific individual, he said.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and founder of Godolphin Racing, which has two horses entered in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, was thought to have been on a United Arab Emirates plane that flew into Lexington late Friday afternoon. The sheikh's Thoroughbred interests include property and horses in Central Kentucky.

The VIP plane is being guarded by Gold Shield, a private firm that has guarded planes belonging to the royal family in the past.

A flap erupted in September 2007 after Blue Grass Airport officials told airport public safety officers that they would not be allowed to keep thousands of dollars in tips left for them for guarding planes used by members of the ruling family of Dubai.

Representatives of the royal family left several envelopes containing money for airport officials and public safety officers who handled security for the family's planes during visits they made to Lexington that month. Three envelopes were opened and found to contain a total of $8,000; 19 more envelopes, presumably containing thousands of dollars more, were not opened, airport officials said at the time. Nineteen of the airport's 20 public safety officers worked a total of 364½ hours of overtime guarding the VIP planes that September, airport officials said at the time. The Maktoums were billed for those services.

The airport's legal counsel interpreted a state law to mean that the airport's public safety officers were prohibited from accepting gratuities while on the job at the airport. Eventually, a Lexington lawyer who had handled legal matters for Central Kentucky horse farms owned by the Maktoum family went to the airport to retrieve the envelopes.

The 2007 dustup over the tip money was just one of several headline-grabbing incidents involving the airport over the past two years. In January, four top airport officials, including executive director Michael Gobb and directors John Coon, John Rhodes and John Slone, stepped down from their jobs amid questions regarding their spending of airport money. An audit by state auditor Crit Luallen's office found more than $500,000 in questionable expenses by the four men and three other airport employees over a three-year period. A criminal investigation is underway.

Airport public safety chief Scott Lanter said airport officials required public safety officers to guard VIP planes in 2007 and 2008.

"We were required to do it by Mike Gobb and John Coon," he said, adding that he was never given a good reason why. "I didn't like the idea then; I don't like it now." he said. "I fought it tooth and nail; it was not received well by the rank and file."