BATON ROUGE, La.—The Louisiana Legislative Auditor said Monday he plans to dig into travel by Louisiana State Police “fairly soon” after reports by The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV exposed a side trip troopers took to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas on their way to a conference in San Diego.
“I’ve had a couple of legislative requests, one of them in writing today,” said Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, which he says prompted him to agree to review the agency’s travel.
Governor John Bel Edwards already instructed internal auditors from his Division of Administration to investigate troopers’ trips dating back to the Jindal Administration.
“What I hope I can do is help [state police] develop policies and procedures so that they don’t end up here again,” Purpera said.
His decision comes after two high-profile scandals involving state troopers, including questions about pricey travel and news of federal subpoenas issued to troopers for a grand jury investigation into the Louisiana State Troopers Association.
Multiple sources close to the situation say the controversies could prompt a shake-up in the leadership of the state police.
Governor John Bel Edwards has met privately with Colonel Mike Edmonson several times in the past four days, including a one-on-one meeting held Monday morning at the governor’s office, according to sources with knowledge of the meetings.
However, Edwards’ Communications Director Richard Carbo said Monday’s meeting was a regularly scheduled get-together and would not say whether a change in leadership was imminent.
“There’s a cloud that’s hovering over the organization and it’s there because of him and the things that have happened on his watch,” said Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche.
The meetings come as speculation mounts from watchdog groups that after 9 years of commanding the state’s premier law enforcement agency, Edmonson may soon be out.
Last week, news broke of federal subpoenas were handed out for more than a dozen troopers to appear before a grand jury that sources close to the case say is investigating the spending of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, a labor group that acts as a benevolent society for current and former members of the LSP.
In January, the group and its executive director, David Young, entered a consent agreement with the Louisiana Board of Ethics, admitting the LSTA funneled campaign contributions through Young to political candidates, including Governor Edwards.
Meeting minutes from an LSTA board meeting, obtained by WWL-TV, reflect a repayment from Edwards for the $9,500 his campaign improperly received from Young.
In all, Young and the LSTA admitted to the ethics board they illegally contributing $17,500 to various candidates.
Prior to news about the federal grand jury, Edmonson came under fire after the New Orleans Advocate at WWL-TV reported on a side trip 4 state troopers took in a state-owned SUV to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas on their way to a training conference where Edmonson was receiving a national award.
Edmonson’s chief of staff, Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy, signed off on the troopers’ use of his SUV for the trip. While Edmonson denied knowledge that the troopers planned to take the long route, his signature, that he later said was a stamp, appears on a credit card reimbursement form that included hotel charges for the troopers’ stay in Arizona and Las Vegas.
Edmonson said his secretary stamped the document and that the agency’s internal auditing of trip receipts only looks at whether receipts match up with expenditures, not whether those expenditures were proper.
Time sheets show three of the troopers on the side trip also claimed to work overtime on their drive during stretches of travel that should have only taken four to five hours.
Since news of the side trip broke, Edmonson said he would change policy, requiring troopers to be paid compensatory time, not overtime for travel.
The 4 troopers are currently reassigned pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation by state police.
One of those troopers, Derrel Williams, was the head of internal affairs for the agency until he was reassigned to patrol, pending the outcome of the internal probe.
Governor Edwards ordered his Division of Administration to conduct a sweeping audit of state police travel as a result of the scandal.
“The San Diego trip is a symptom not the entirety of the problem with the organization,” Goyeneche said, and while he stopped short of calling for Edmonson to step down, Goyeneche urged the Edwards administration to continue with its probe into state police travel with the results of it made public.
Edmonson didn’t return a call seeking comment Monday and his spokesman said nothing has changed,
Edmonson is still leading the agency.