Taxpayers' money has been spent on gambling tournaments at the Playboy Mansion for the past three years, according to letters and emails seen by the Bermuda Sun.

Premier Ewart Brown personally ordered thousands of dollars be diverted to the events, proceeds from which went to a charity run by Dr. Brown's son. In a further twist, the letters reveal that public money was also spent on a separate event as a favour to a friend of Dr. Brown's wife.

Two weeks ago it was revealed the Department of Tourism provided one of the top prizes at a celebrity poker tournament in Los Angeles. Despite being one of the top sponsors, Bermuda tourism's "Feel the Love" branding and other publicity was not displayed at the event. Dr. Brown attended the party and rubbed shoulders with actors, professional gamblers and glamour girls. Fresh details are contained in letters and emails that passed between organizers of the events, Dr. Brown and a senior member of staff at the Department of Tourism's New York office.

Contradiction

The exchanges contradict many of the official statements put out by government since the controversy broke. In particular, the government has maintained that the decision to sponsor Playboy parties and other events in America was made by management in New York, based on their potential benefit to Bermuda tourism. The emails and letters prove that Dr. Brown was personally picking projects on which to spend public funds. In none of the exchanges does he enquire as to advertising or promotional opportunities for Bermuda tourism before agreeing to donate gifts.

The letters show that Bermuda sponsored Playboy parties in 2006, 2007 and 2008 in benefit of the Urban Health Institute - a charity set up by Dr. Kevin Brown, the eldest of Premier Brown's four sons. Yvette McNally, special events director at the Urban Health Institute, wrote to Dr. Brown on March 22, 2006, and said: "This letter is to confirm that the Bermuda Department of Tourism will donate a trip to Bermuda, which will include roundtrip airfare for two on Jet Blue and accommodations at the Mandarin Elbow Beach Resort for four days and three nights."

The next day, Premier Brown sent an email to a senior member of staff at the New York tourism office, saying: "This event, which [name withheld] knows about, will be attended by a 'hot' crowd in L.A. I promised them a 3-night stay and roundtrip air for two." A similar letter from Ms McNally arrived on Dr. Brown's desk on April 1, 2007, this time requesting two vacation packages, each for two people staying four days and five nights. A few days later Dr. Brown wrote to the same member of staff in New York with the message: "Please arrange two pckgs as requested and communicate with this lady. Thanks." A few hours later a message came back from New York saying: "Consider it done."

In the wake of the Playboy controversy, government revealed that the Department of Tourism had supplied prizes for many American companies, not just those with links to Dr. Brown's family.

One of the organizations named was the National Urban Technology Center, a non-profit group that works to put technology in the hands of disadvantaged people.

In August 2006, the organisation's founder, Pat Bransford, emailed Dr. Brown to say: "Dear Ewart. I am a friend of Wanda's [Dr. Brown's wife] dating back almost 15 years." Ms Bransford goes on to outline the work of her organization, and then continues: "The purpose of this note is to make a special request - a donation of a vacation package to Bermuda for our silent auction."

The email goes on to invite Mr. and Mrs. Brown to a plush reception and dinner at a top hotel in Washington D.C. Ms Bransford then reminds Dr. Brown: "We met briefly at the Links [golf] event in 2005 and at the reception for [names withheld] last year at the Vineyard."

Within a few hours, Dr. Brown had emailed back to say: "Hi Pat: Of course we can assist! You will hear from [name withheld] of our NY office on this very soon. PS. Wanda sends her hello."

Nowhere in these exchanges does Dr. Brown enquire how the link up will benefit Bermuda or Bermudians.

The Premier's press secretary Glenn Jones has previously estimated that each donation to an American organisation has cost around $1,500 to $1,800.

He has stated that some of the cost of each vacation package was met by hotel partners in Bermuda. However, the emails and letters suggest that the public purse was meeting all costs.

The Opposition has previously questioned Dr. Brown, via Mr. Jones, about the Playboy controversy. They asked how Bermuda Tourism chooses which projects to support in America and what criteria are used. Mr. Jones said that charities typically submit a request to the New York office, where management accept or decline based on likely advantage to Bermuda tourism.

Premier's response

Mr. Jones said yesterday: "All overseas requests for financial support or sponsorship, including those that come via the Premier, are examined by the New York Tourism Office. If the request is approved the organization receives assistance. Because the Premier is recognizable with the Bermuda Tourism product, he receives direct requests almost daily. Those requests, like all others, are screened."