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The Louisiana State Police in Baton Rouge photographed Friday, March 31, 2017.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING

Seven years ago, WVUE-TV raised questions about the huge amount of overtime pay Louisiana State Police Trooper Daryl Thomas was raking in. But then-Superintendent Mike Edmonson assured the New Orleans station that Thomas' hours were on the up and up. 

"I can assure you, every one of those hours he put down, he worked," Edmonson said at the time. 

However, a recent investigation by WVUE revealed troubling discrepancies between the hours Thomas has claimed and the amount of time he appears to have actually been working. The trooper was paid $240,000 last year, $147,000 of which was overtime, according to the report.

He received the same eye-popping sum in overtime the year before, the station reported, but State Police brass apparently failed to take notice, even though Thomas for years has been among the state's highest-paid officials. Before being suspended with pay this week, Thomas had been assigned to the agency's Kenner-based Troop B, where he worked as a motorcycle patrolman. 

During a months-long investigation, WVUE — which surveilled Thomas coming and going from his home on multiple occasions — said that each time the station filmed Thomas, it noted differences between the time he actually worked and the hours he put on his timesheet.

The discrepancies amounted to thousands of dollars in overtime Thomas claimed for time he actually spent at home. In one instance, on Labor Day, Thomas purported to have worked 16 hours when WVUE's cameras observed him at his home from 11:10 a.m. to 5 p.m. of that shift. Two days later, he again billed taxpayers for a 16-hour shift but appeared to have been at home for six of those hours. 

The report cites six other days when Thomas' timesheet didn't match with the hours worked. 

Thomas is one of three state troopers under criminal investigation after WVUE showed its findings to Col. Kevin Reeves, the State Police superintendent. Those troopers have been suspended with pay, State Police officials told The Advocate on Wednesday.

The other troopers under investigation are Eric Curlee, a senior technician assigned to the agency's Emergency Services Unit, and Byron Sims, a polygrapher. A fourth trooper, who is on sick leave, is also under investigation, WVUE reported. State Police have not released his name because he has not been suspended. 

Reeves on Wednesday also suspended the statewide highway traffic enforcement program that Thomas and the other troopers were allegedly bilking. The program, called Local Agency Compensated Enforcement, or LACE, has for years been funded by district attorneys around the state, who contract with State Police and then reimburse the agency for the extra-duty shifts worked by troopers, as well as their mileage. 

The revenue from the tickets the troopers write goes to the district attorneys, public defenders and other law enforcement agencies.

"We're going to step back and look at the entire program, its policies and procedures, in an effort to ensure the oversight is effective," said Maj. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman.

The criminal investigation comes on the heels of another scandal involving a group of State Police troopers who charged taxpayers for an unauthorized road trip they took to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon last year while driving to a law enforcement conference in San Diego. The controversial trip prompted the early retirement of Edmonson and recently led to the demotion of two high-ranking troopers.

Reeves expressed concern with Thomas' activities when confronted by WVUE's undercover footage. But state officials have known for years about Thomas' prolific use of overtime, and he has long been among the top-paid state employees.

An investigative report by WAFB-TV in 2009 noted that Thomas had made some $80,000 in overtime in 2008. That report said Thomas joined the State Police in 1995 and by 2000 had been honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for making more DWI arrests than any other state trooper. 

The amount of overtime Thomas earned does not appear to have raised any red flags within the State Police, even though Thomas typically bills taxpayers for more than 80 hours a week. 

WVUE-TV noted that the State Police suspended Thomas for four days in 1998 for filing false paperwork in which he inflated the hours he worked during a LACE shift in St. Charles Parish. Thomas, when confronted with the "discrepancy," first claimed he had worked an extra hour because he "had trouble getting (his) tickets," adding that it took him "longer than normal" to write them, according to State Police records. 

The agency determined Thomas actually had stopped worked shortly after 8 p.m. on the day in question while claiming to have worked until 9 p.m.

"Additionally, there is no required number of tickets a trooper must submit while working the LACE detail," W.R. "Rut" Whittington, a deputy superintendent at the time, wrote in a disciplinary letter to Thomas. 

In a telephone interview Thursday, Edmonson stood by his comments regarding Thomas' overtime when he was first confronted by WVUE seven years ago. State Police did look into Thomas' prolific overtime, he said.

"His then-supervisors assured myself and my deputy superintendent that those hours were accounted for," Edmonson told The Advocate. "They came back to me and said that, based on their review, he'd worked the hours in question at the time." 

Edmonson noted that the discrepancies highlighted by WVUE occurred after his retirement earlier this year. But he acknowledged that the station's report raises questions about how long troopers have been bilking the LACE program. 

"You can try to speculate as to whether (Thomas) has done it other times, but you can't know for sure," he said. "It does make one wonder." 

For the full report from WVUE, click here. 

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.