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Hilton Worldwide says '$16 muffins' included fresh fruit and drinks

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
updated 7:30 PM EDT, Fri September 23, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hilton Worldwide says muffins were part of $16 breakfast
  • Inspector General say it itemized the costs at conference
  • But it does not know whether food tab factored in "free" meeting space

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Stung by an audit report this week that highlighted "$16 muffins" at a conference at the Capital Hilton in Washington, the hotel chain is fighting back, insisting the pricey pastries were not that expensive.

Hilton Worldwide responded to the much-publicized cost of the muffins, disputing the $16 per muffin charge cited by the Justice Inspector General in an audit of costs incurred at Justice Department conferences in 2008 and 2009.

"The contracted breakfast included fresh fruit, coffee, juice, and muffins, plus tax and gratuity for an inclusive price of $16 per person," Hilton Worldwide said in a statement from corporate headquarters in McLean, Virginia.

The Office of Inspector General said it stands by its report, noting investigators examined receipts submitted for the reception.

But Hilton says "dining receipts are often abbreviated and do not reflect the full pre-contracted menu and service provided, as is the case with recent media reports of breakfast items approved for some government meetings."

"We made several attempts to reach the Capital Hilton during the course of the audit, and they were not responsive to our numerous requests," Jay Lerner, the spokesman for the Justice Office of Inspector General, told CNN late Friday.

The report by the Inspector General noted the training conference for the Executive Office for Immigration Review held in August 2009 served 534 people. The conference attendees averaged a daily cost of $14.74 for refreshments over the five day meeting just above the $14.72 limit set by the Justice Department.

The Inspector General agreed the reception provided the free items Hilton says were included. But the tussle in a teapot centers on the receipt for $4,200 for 250 muffins and $2,880 for 300 cookies and brownies.

"By itemizing these costs, we determined that with service and gratuity muffins cost over $16 each and cookies and brownies cost almost $10 each," the Inspector General report said.

But Hilton says that simply doesn't provide the full picture. "Hotel teams tailor these events to provide maximum value and ensure the best experience possible," Hilton said.

The Inspector General's report indicates the Hilton "provided meeting space without charge." But the Inspector General office told CNN it does not know whether the food and beverage cost at that conference was in any way impacted by the "free" rental space.

The story of pricey muffins struck a nerve because of a widely-held view that government officials spend taxpayer funds too freely. And it follows a report in 2007 by a previous Justice Inspector General which highlighted "$5 meatballs" at one legal conference. That led to tighter Justice Department rules to curtail excessive conference costs.

CNN's Jim Barnett contributed to this report.

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