Ex-State Police commander lived life of luxury on taxpayers' dime, audit claims

Former State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson used his position to live a life of luxury on the taxpayers’ dime, living rent-free at a Department of Public Safety compound, regularly using troopers to drive his wife around the state and using his LSP credit card to pay for thousands of dollars in questionable meals -- all possibly in violation of state law.

Those claims, among others, are documented in a draft investigative audit from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor obtained by The New Orleans Advocate.

The allegations come a day after an investigative report into a sightseeing side trip four State Troopers took on their way to a conference in San Diego alleged Edmonson deleted text messages from one of the four troopers’ phones -- potential evidence in the investigation. He had claimed he did not know about the trip and later retired as that probe continued.

Edmonson did not return a message WWL-TV left with him early Friday afternoon.

He told The Advocate in a text message earlier in the day that he just received the report and was reviewing it. "By reporting the document, you will be negating my legal right to review. The process is for me to respond back to them first, not the media. Whoever furnished you with the report did so without the approval of the auditor's office."

In a statement issued late Friday afternoon, State Police said the agency continues "to cooperate with the Legislative Auditor’s office. The department is currently formulating our response to the findings and recommendations of the audit.  That response will be included in the final report and disseminated by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor."

State Police declined to comment any further, saying that would be "premature and interfere with the Legislative Auditor’s standard procedures and directives to the department."

While WWL-TV legal analyst Pauline Hardin said the audit reveals many questionable actions, there is still time for Edmonson to respond. "He may have reasonable explanations for some of this, and so I think people will have to wait and see what he says."

But Rafael Goyeneche, head of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said Edmonson's actions raise serious questions about how he ran the department.

"He was less the colonel of the state police and more the boss hog of the state police," Goyeneche said. "The people and the public were second to his own interests in this."

Housing benefits raise eyebrows

Perhaps the most eye-popping of the claims in the report is that Edmonson and his family lived rent-free for nine years at the Department of Public Safety’s Residential Conference Center, a benefit estimated to be worth $434,720. Edmonson also failed to report that as a taxable benefit as required by the IRS.

“DPS employees told us that the RCC was built to house the governor, director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness and LSP superintendent during emergency situations,” the report reads.

DPS employees told auditors that while some previous LSP colonels have stayed at the RCC during the week, they returned home during the weekend. “Statements from DPS employees indicate that Colonel Edmonson is the only LSP superintendent to move his family into the RCC.”

Hardin said that the failure to report the housing as a benefit could be problematic.

"If he should have reported this as income to them, it's a lot of money that involved. So they could start a federal investigation, a federal criminal investigation. Or they could do a civil investigation  
and determine that he owes money civilly," she said. "If I were in his shoes I would certainly expect there would be follow-up by state and possibly by the federal authorities, too, but he will have to deal with his income tax issues."

Report: Shoe closet renovation for wife

Records also indicate Edmonson renovated the home to include a shoe closet for his wife where the living room used to be. “We were unable to determine the cost to construct the shoe closet as a record of supplies used/purchased for this project was not maintained,” the audit reads.

The auditor also found that DPS paid the bills for the RCC’s electricity, cable TV, internet service cleaning supplies and flowers at Edmonson’s request. Thost bills totaled $19,330 from Dec. 23, 2013, to Feb. 27, 2017.

Away from the home, the audit found, Edmonson also used state troopers to his and his family’s personal benefit.

Chauffeur services

Among the claims: a trooper told auditors he had to drive Edmonson’s wife, mother-in-law and one of his friends to and from a Bob Seger concert in Lafayette in a state vehicle.

Another trooper said Edmonson asked him to drive his wife, mother and two of his wife’s friends to and from the Golden Nugget Casino in Lake Charles in October 2015, also in a state vehicle. He said he drove back to Lake Charles from Baton Rouge in a state vehicle two days later to pick them up and return them to Baton Rouge.

At other times, a trooper assigned to Troop B in Kenner was used to drive Edmonson’s wife to and from Baton Rouge when she needed to go to or be picked up from Armstrong International Airport. Those trips were done during the trooper’s work day and he used a State Police vehicle, according to the audit. “Another trooper indicated that he transported Ms. Edmonson and her friend to the airport to catch a private jet to Destin, Florida,” according to the audit.

Edmonson told auditors that if his wife was going somewhere and a trooper was headed the same direction, he would have allowed her to ride with the trooper. “He also told us no one ever complained to him about doing things he asked them to do.”

Carnival season perks

During Carnival season, Edmonson reportedly had troopers drive him and his family to various events.

“Some of the troopers who worked off-duty details at the Endymion Ball stated their primary purpose was to take care of Colonel Edmonson and his guests who were attending the ball” the audit reads.

In addition, the krewe told auditors that Edmonson took between two and four ball tickets each year. The tickets cost $295 each.

The audit notes that Endymion paid State Police $382,365 for troopers to provide security at the ball between 2013 and 2017. State law prohibits public servants from accepting anything of monetary value from any person or group that does business with the agency the person works for.

When troopers were in New Orleans for Carnival-season details between 2013 and 2016, the audit found, Edmonson used extra hotel rooms paid for by the city, allowed his friends and family to stay there for free. He received a $515 reimbursement from State Police in 2014 for a room at Hotel Mazarin in the French Quarter, even though the city booked a room for him at another hotel.

Dry cleaning services

When he was on the clock, Edmonson was almost always seen in a crisp, pressed State Police uniform. His laundry was another perk that apparently cost taxpayers a decent sum of money.

The audit found Edmonson had troopers bring his clothes -- and sometimes his wife’s clothes -- to the governor’s mansion where its dry-cleaning service washed them, despite him getting a stipend for dry cleaning.

Edmonson collected $6,344 in dry-cleaning allowances between Jan. 1, 2014, and March 26, 2017, according to the report.

Edmonson told auditors his predecessors also had their clothes dry-cleaned at the mansion. However, the State Police captain who supervises troopers at the mansion said that in his 26 years there, Edmonson was the first superintendent to use the service.

The captain also said he thought it was improper for Edmonson’s family’s clothes to be washed there. “The LSP captain further indicated that because Colonel Edmonson was … his direct supervisor, he did not feel that he was in a position to question Colonel Edmonson’s actions.”

Cafeteria perks

During his work days, Edmonson also regularly ate for free at the DPS cafeteria instead of paying for his meals, the audit claims. “We spoke with several DPS and LSP employees who told us Colonel Edmonson frequently entered the cafeteria, sat down at his usual table, and was served meals without waiting in the line or paying at the cash register.”

Edmonson told auditors he may have “inadvertently” walked out of the cafeteria without paying for his coffee.

He said most of his meals were paid for by others. The cafeteria manager estimated Edmonson did not pay for his meals 50 percent of the time and noted that he had inmates deliver food to his house that he did not pay for.

Off campus, Edmonson used a DPS credit card to pay for meals that were not properly documented to show their business purposes, according to the audit.

“From February 18, 2009, to March 1, 2017, Colonel Edmonson spent $7,446 for 80 special meals using the Chase Business Card,” auditors wrote. “... (W)e found that itemized receipts were missing for 33 of the 80 (41.3%) special meals charged to Colonel Edmonson’s Chase Business Card. Those records also show that for 72 of the 80 (90%) of the meals, attendees’ names were not recorded.”

Edmonson also had his and his family’s vehicles serviced at the DPS’s Fleet Operations center, according to the audit.

An employee recorded 19 instances in which staffers did everything from detailing to body work on six different private vehicles for Edmonson from May 2016 to December 2016.

“One employee stated that Colonel Edmonson began by bringing his wife’s vehicle to Fleet Operations to have it washed and detailed. This employee stated that the practice evolved into Fleet Operations personnel picking up a vehicle from Colonel Edmonson’s resident on the DPS compound, taking the vehicle to Fleet Operations, washing and/or detailing the vehicle, and returning the vehicle to Colonel Edmonson’s residence,” the audit reads.

In addition, Fleet Operations staffers told auditors that other times they picked up tires, brought them to Fleet Operations and replaced the tires on Edmonson’s wife’s car. Another time, employees changed the tops on Edmonson’s son’s Jeep, which had a hard top for winter and soft top for summer and replaced mirrors on Edmonson’s daughter’s car more than once.

Fleet Operations also performed an alignment on Edmonson’s mother’s vehicle on one occasion.

Edmonson told auditors that since he lived on the DPS compound, he saw nothing wrong with having his wife’s car washed there. He also said that at times he would wash her car himself at Fleet Operations, in addition to assisting with replacing the roof on his son’s Jeep.

“Colonel Edmonson stated that no one complained to him about performing these services for him and his family.

Goyeneche, of the MCC, said Edmonson's private life belied his public reputation.

"This is somebody that I think was misleading the public and deceiving the public so he looked like Dudley Do-Right, but he was basically doing wrong behind the scenes," Goyeneche said. "It’s time to lawyer up."

Edmonson has until Dec. 12 to respond to the draft report.

New Orleans Advocate staff writer Jim Mustian contributed to this report.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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