BATON ROUGE -- Former State Police Commander Mike Edmonson stopped short of saying he ordered four troopers to take the long route on their way to a conference to San Diego in 2016, but told the Louisiana State Police Commission he didn’t have a problem with it.
The four troopers drove a state-owned SUV to San Diego for a law enforcement conference, making stops at the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and in Las Vegas along the way, charging the state for more expensive hotels and added time away from the conference.
“I didn’t have a problem with any of that. I know how hard these guys work,” Edmonson testified Friday, adding he did not know how much the troopers were spending. But the colonel signed off on at least one of their expense reports after the trip.
Edmonson has said his secretary actually signed the report using a signature stamp of his name.
When WWL-TV broke the story with The New Orleans Advocate, Edmonson said he gave the green light for Derrell Williams, Rodney Hyatt, Thurman Miller and Alexandr Nezgodinsky to drive, claiming he thought it would be the most cost-effective way for them to get there.
Edmonson said he did not sign off on their overtime for the trip and he called for an internal investigation.
One of the troopers, Hyatt, also brought his wife along in the SUV.
Edmonson took the witness stand Friday with his defense attorney, Jim Boren, present at an appeal hearing for three of the troopers, who were disciplined and demoted for violating the state travel policy and for charging the state overtime and comp time for hours they were not working.
An investigative audit was ordered by Governor John Bel Edwards after the news broke of the side trip and Edmonson stepped down from his post after 9 years as the head of the state’s premier law enforcement agency.
Auditors found the Department of Public Safety spent more than $85,000 in state money on the trip with $12,000 of that the result of not using the most cost-effective means of travel.
State travel policy requires employees to take the most direct route when traveling on official business. Edmonson told the commission Friday he wasn’t aware of that when the troopers headed to San Diego, however he also said he didn’t directly sign off on the route, but recalled a conversation with Hyatt about the drive.
“My son found the southern route to be boring,” Edmonson said he told Hyatt.
Auditors confirmed that some of the troopers who went on the San Diego trip billed the state for overtime that they did not work, a finding first reported by WWL-TV and the New Orleans Advocate.
Edmonson defended the troopers on the stand Friday, praising Hyatt for paying back the money for lunches he didn’t pay for and hours not worked before he was ordered pay the money back.
When asked whether Edmonson approved the overtime hours, he told the commission, “That was never a conversation we had.”
An attorney for the troopers argued some of them may have worked the hours at times on the trip that differed from what was recorded on their time sheets, but over all, they logged the proper number of hours.
Col. Kevin Reeves, Edmonson’s successor, emphasized on the stand Friday his expectation that troopers submit accurate and truthful timesheets every time.
What began as an investigation into the side trip ended with a scathing audit from the LLA that stretched well beyond it.
Legislative Auditor Darryl Purpera’s December report suggested Edmonson broke ethics rules and possibly, the law in his personal use of state resources.
The audit report detailed Edmonson’s dependence on handouts, from free housing at the LSP headquarters in Baton Rouge to free cable TV and internet, free housekeeping from a Louisiana state prisoner, free meals in the LSP cafeteria and taxpayer-funded hotel rooms he doled out to friends and family that were meant to house troopers at Mardi Gras.
Edmonson submitted a short response wrought with anger that a draft report had been leaked to the media before he had a chance to fully respond, calling on the legislative auditor to investigate the source of the leak.
Friday he once again questioned the process of the audit’s release, but would only say, “I have a lot of opinions and a lot of different things because there’s still a process in place,” about the allegations.
He said he had not been interviewed or even asked to be interviewed by federal authorities, even though the scathing legislative audit, wrought with allegations Edmonson broke the law, was turned over to state and federal prosecutors last fall.