BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The former head of state police may have broken state law on several occasions during his time as the state's top cop, according to a new report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
The report, released Thursday, highlights alleged abuse of power by Col. Mike Edmonson during his more than nine years as state police superintendent. The claims range from using state troopers to shuttle his family members to casinos to giving his family and friends hotel rooms meant for troopers during Mardi Gras to having inmates walk the family dog.
Among the key accusations outlined in the report:
- Edmonson and his family allegedly lived in a home on the state police compound “without legal authority” for nine years at an estimated value to Edmonson of $434,000. The auditor says Edmonson should have paid taxes on that amount and apparently did not.
- Edmonson allegedly got free meals from the state police cafeteria that auditors believe he should have paid for.
- Edmonson allegedly let family members bring their personal vehicles to the state police fleet operations center for free minor repairs, car washes, and detailing. One trooper said his secretary kept notes of when these incidents allegedly happened.
- Edmonson allegedly got his uniforms dry-cleaned at the Governor’s Mansion while also being given an allowance from state police for the same purpose.
- During Mardi Gras, Edmonson allegedly let friends and family stay for free in hotel rooms in New Orleans meant for state troopers, including at the five-star Windsor Court Hotel.
The audit also claims Edmonson used state troopers as personal chauffeurs for his family and friends. At one point, a trooper allegedly drove his wife and mother-in-law to and from Baton Rouge to a concert at the Cajundome in Lafayette. At another time, a trooper allegedly drove his wife and mother-in-law to the Golden Nugget Casino in Lake Charles. He then reportedly returned to Baton Rouge, only to turn around and go back to Lake Charles two days later to bring them home.
The report also says a trooper told auditors he once had to drive from Kenner to Baton Rouge to pick up Edmonson's wife before driving her to the New Orleans Airport to catch a private jet to Florida.
The audit also touches on the side trip to Las Vegas and beyond taken by several state troopers on the taxpayer's dime. That trip was exposed in a Lee Zurik investigative news report.
At the time of the Zurik investigation, Edmonson claimed to have no knowledge that four troopers swung through Vegas and stayed the night there on their way to a conference in California. "It's appalling. It's embarrassing," he told Zurik.
However, the auditor says troopers they interviewed claimed Edmonson did in fact know about the Vegas trip before they even left. They claim Edmonson even asked them to text him photos and updates along the way, which they did.
Edmonson was given time to respond to the audit, but asked to have until the middle of next month to do so. He did, however, write to auditors to say former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was in office at the time, gave him permission to live in the house on the state police compound. He added he is "confident" that the residents of Louisiana "will not prematurely reach conclusions until all of the facts are presented."
Edmonson was appointed the superintendent by Jindal. Democrat John Bel Edwards kept him on in the position when he took office in 2016. Edmonson stepped down in March of 2017 amid questions about the Vegas trip. In a statement, Edwards described the audit's findings as "troubling," saying the auditor uncovered "serious problems with past abuses of power from [state police's] previous leader."
A panel of state lawmakers reviewed the report Thursday afternoon. Rep. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, described it as "disturbing," saying it indicated there was "an endowed group at the top-end of state police."
Col. Kevin Reeves, who replaced Edmonson as superintendent and is not accused of any wrongdoing, told the panel these are "some of the darkest days for Louisiana State Police." However, he also says he believes "our best days are ahead of us."
Reeves says his agency has already made changes to address many of the report's findings. "The good news is that we believe we have sound policies and procedures in place. However, we must do a better job to ensure they are followed by every employee. Again, regardless of position or rank," he told the panel.
The audit's findings were first reported in The Advocate newspaper roughly two weeks ago. Reports also appeared on WWL-TV in New Orleans, with reports citing a leaked early draft. In a letter to the auditor, Edmonson described the draft getting out early as "inexplicable" and wrote, "I trust your office has begun an investigation into this improper conduct."
At the hearing Thursday, Assistant Legislative Auditor Roger Harris denied it was leaked by the auditor's office. He says only two copies were sent out ahead of time: one to Col. Kevin Reeves and another to Col. Mike Edmonson, each with a personalized cover letter. "If you go to WWL.com, the screenshot there is the cover letter I? released to Col. Edmonson," Harris said. "I'm not saying Col. Edmonson released the report, but I'm saying the copy that went to him was released to the media."
If it is found that Edmonson indeed violated any laws, it would likely be the U.S. Attorney's Office that would take over what could next become a criminal case.
Read the full audit below: