Filed Under:  Top News

Edmonson hires former federal prosecutor amid accusations of misuse of public funds

29th January 2018   ·   0 Comments

Former Louisiana State Police Supt. Col. Mike Edmonson, who announced his retirement last year in the wake of a scandal involving several state troopers who made unauthorized stops in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon as they traveled to a San Diego law enforcement conference, has reportedly hired a former federal prosecutor as counsel to respond to a scathing audit released in December by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor that accused Edmonson of living a lavish lifestyle on the taxpayer dime.

WWL News reported that the state auditor re-released the audit report Wednesday because Edmonson’s attorney, former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg, filed a new, page-and-a-half response to the report that only addresses a fraction of the allegations against Edmonson.

Rosenberg’s letter to the auditor defends Edmonson’s use of the Residential Conference Center, a house on state police grounds, as his personal residence, saying the Chief of Staff under former Gov. Bobby Jindal, Timmy Teepell, granted him permission to live there with his family.



“Governor John Bel Edwards recently stated publicly that he expected Colonel Edmonson to be living in that residence and available at all times,” Rosenberg wrote.

But because Teepell granted Edmonson permission to live in the home before Jindal had been sworn in, the auditor claims, Teepell had no authority to sign off on the arrangement. Auditors said they found no state law requiring Edmonson to live at state police headquarters, a fact Rosenberg admits in his letter.

WWL News reported that Edmonson, the longest-serving state police superintendent in Louisiana history, lived in the house at no charge for nine years, and according to auditors, did not pay state or federal taxes on the fringe benefit.

In his letter, Rosenberg details Edmonson’s years of service to the state, saying he never asked for or received overtime for the many hours he worked beyond his expected work schedule.

But the auditor pointed out that Edmonson was paid $18,058 in compensatory time for hours worked over his expected work schedule when he retired from the Louisiana State Police last year.

When the report was initially released in mid-December, Edmonson personally responded to the allegations, saying he would submit a more detailed response by January 15.

Rosenberg’s letter to the auditor is dated January 16.

What began as a probe into a side trip four troopers took on the way to a conference in San Diego ended with auditor Darryl Purpera’s December report suggesting Edmonson broke ethics rules and possibly, the law.

The audit report details 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 doled out to friends and family that were meant to house troopers working in New Orleans during 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.

In its response to Rosenberg, the auditor’s office wrote that it conducted an investigation into the leak of the draft audit, and found no one on their end had prematurely released a copy to WWL-TV and its partners at the New Orleans Advocate.

But the final report didn’t stray much from the draft and legal experts have said the findings could pose a big problem for Edmonson.

“Their reports will be provided to both state prosecutors and federal prosecutors for them to review to determine if there’s any actual basis for any criminal charges,” Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche, told WWL News.

The Advocate reported Tuesday that an FBI anti-corruption task force has begun interviewing people about the allegations and beyond.

After all, the audit indicated Edmonson may have committed malfeasance and misuse of public funds.

As for the trip that started it all, auditors found the Department of Public Safety spent more than $85,000 in state money on the trip to multiple conferences in San Diego in October 2016, with $12,000 of that the result of not using the most cost-effective means of travel.

Those figures do not include Edmonson’s travel expenses. The report says he told auditors the International Association of Chiefs of Police paid for his trip, the host organization for one of the conferences that was giving Edmonson an award.

Four troopers traveled by road in a state-owned SUV, choosing a scenic detour on their way that included stops at the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam and in Las Vegas.

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.

In a 17-page response, one of those troopers, Rodney Hyatt, who was demoted over the trip, argued that Edmonson told him to take his wife to the conference and “have a good time.”

He paid the state back for more than $1,000 in overtime after the stories first broke about the trip.

In Rosenberg’s response to the audit report, he claims Edmonson did not know the troopers had been paid overtime for their time on the trip. Records show Edmonson’s signature only appears on the timesheet for Maj. Darrell Williams, who was overtime-exempt.

“Of course, Colonel Edmonson had a supervisory staff, augmenting the normal chain of command for each state trooper, to oversee the appropriateness of overtime, in addition to the fact that the troopers themselves had been trained and should have recognized if overtime payments were permissible,” Rosenberg wrote.

Rosenberg wrote that Edmonson “does not have the type of resources to respond” to the lengthy list of claims — and didn’t have enough time because a draft report was leaked early.

“Regrettably, Col. Edmonson was unable to engage in a meaningful preliminary conference with you due to the premature release of the ‘draft’ audit. Such a normal protocol would have allowed Col. Edmonson to respond to more of the auditor’s initial commentary,” Rosenberg wrote.

Edmonson retired under a cloud in March after the stories about the side trip broke. At the time, he said he had been planning his retirement for a while, but an internal investigation completed within the Louisiana State Police revealed Edmonson retired at the request of the governor after he was confronted with some of the allegations currently being leveled against him.

After the story of the West Coast broke, a number of officials called for Edmonson to step down or be fired, among them U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s final report outlined Edmonson’s life of luxury, free-of-charge and it indicates he shared the wealth, especially when it came to hotel rooms during Mardi Gras.

“We send a letter to the colonel asking for a certain number of state troopers. We then work to negotiate how many troopers we need versus how many he could really supply,” Harrison told WWL News in an interview.

The undermanned NOPD has been bolstered by the Louisiana State Police to keep residents and visitors to the city safe during high-profile events like Carnival, the Bayou Classic, the Essence Festival and New Year’s Eve.

Most of those troopers come in from out of town and need a place to stay while in New Orleans. Placing them in downtown hotels makes it easier for them to work 12-hour shifts, with troopers closer to the city’s center in case something goes wrong.

The Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association seeks out discounts from the city’s hoteliers to help house the troopers.

When the average reveler may spend hundreds of dollars a night to stay in the heart of Carnival, the NOPD would pay as little as $60.

“We figured out how many rooms were needed and then we figured out the funding for that and then the NOPD out of our budget provides the funding for that,” Harrison said.

Even with the discounts, NOPD records show the city spends more than $23,000 a year to house state troopers during that 11-day stretch.

In 2017, the cost climbed to $38,905.

“We asked for more than we would usually ask for Mardi Gras because we had a week of NBA festivities right in the in the middle of Mardi Gras,” Harrison explained to WWL News.

Last year, the NBA All-Star Game brought even more people to the city and the undermanned NOPD was forced to lean more heavily on the state police.

While the NOPD may foot the bill, the state police assigns troopers and supervisors to the different hotels.

The report said the list of available hotels would be sent up the state police chain of command and after supervisors selected their rooms, the remaining rooms were assigned to the rank-and-file troopers.

In his response to the audit, Louisiana State Police Col. Reeves said he has changed how room assignments are made, that, “The detail commander will prioritize assignment of rooms to troopers without reference to rank or position and will return unused or unassigned rooms back to the participating hotels,” he said.

That change comes as auditors found Edmonson regularly asked for extra rooms.

The report said that Edmonson, “[a]llowed his friends and family to stay in those extra hotel rooms free of charge.”

Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche said he is not surprised to hear the allegations about Edmonson misusing hotel rooms.

“I’ve been hearing about it for years. Everything I’ve heard is a result of troopers and former troopers and people in the hotel/motel industry providing that information. So, it was a well-known secret,” Goyeneche told WWL News.

“The goal was to have more law enforcement in the city of New Orleans. If, in fact, this audit shows that these troopers were not housed in the city of New Orleans, they were housed outside because something else was going on, that could be very, very problematic,” said City Council member At-Large Jason Williams.

Auditors found multiple rooms in Edmonson’s name from 2013 to 2016. One year, the report says two rooms at the swanky Windsor Court hotel in the Warehouse District were assigned to an unnamed state trooper.

That state trooper told auditors he did not stay at the Windsor Court that year.

And according to the audit, Edmonson’s emails showed he checked into one of the unnamed trooper’s rooms using his reward number.

In 2014, when the city’s need for security help was critical, the audit says a $310 bill with Mike Edmonson’s name on it for a five-night stay from Feb. 28 to March 5 at the Roosevelt Hotel was paid by the city of New Orleans. Edmonson was also reimbursed by the LSP for some of those same nights at the Hotel Mazarin. That bill also has Edmonson’s name and what appears to be his signature on it.

“If those rooms were being used by friends of Col. Edmonson and they weren’t troopers and they weren’t doing state police work there, that could be a criminal problem for Col. Edmonson,” Goyeneche told WWL.

Auditors said Edmonson told them he booked the rooms at the Hotel Mazarin to hold meetings there, but troopers told investigators all their meetings were held a few blocks away at the state police office in the Cabildo.

“I would imagine that there is going to be an investigation into that. The colonel and I always met. We were always in close contact about what he needed and what he could provide. So, I took them at their word that it would be used for the troopers for the purpose of Mardi Gras,” Harrison said.

It was an honor system, Harrison said, one that may have been dishonored for years at the highest levels of the state police.

“What is disturbing is that it took this long for the truth to be known and I think the reason for that is that people, while disgusted, were afraid to formally confirm for the record what their superior was doing because he was viewed as invincible and he was in a position of power,” Goyeneche said.

The Krewe of Endymion would also annually give Edmonson at least two tickets to the Captain’s table at the Extravaganza, worth nearly $300 each.

And troopers told the auditors they were frequently instructed to shuttle Edmonson’s wife and family around during Mardi Gras and to other events around the state, including trips from Baton Rouge to the New Orleans airport.

The Edmonsons lived free-of-charge at a state-owned house on the state police grounds in Baton Rouge, a fringe benefit the auditors estimate was worth $434,720, one the audit says the Edmonsons never paid state or federal income taxes on.

The report said the couple received free work on their children’s cars, free help cleaning their state-funded home in the form of a state prisoner, free meals in the state police cafeteria and more.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy wrote a letter to the secretary of the La. Department of Revenue asking her to force Edmonson to pay state income taxes on the fringe benefits.

In his letter, Rosenberg praised Edmonson’s performance in office over his 36 years with the Louisiana State Police and nine years as the law enforcement agency’s superintendent.

“Crisscrossing the state, he has been the consistent calming presence through numerous unfortunate crises that our state has experienced,” Rosenberg wrote. “During his four-decade career with the State Police, he worked tirelessly with the respective local law enforcement agencies, as Louisiana residents frequently expressed and observed firsthand.”

WWL News reported last week that the FBI is looking into the allegations made in the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s report on Edmonson.

This article originally published in the January 29, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.