State and federal authorities have set their sights on Mike Edmonson, the longtime Louisiana State Police superintendent who retired this year amid a cloud of controversy that has widened recently as investigators examined the lavish lifestyle Edmonson enjoyed for years at taxpayers' expense.
Among the allegations Edmonson faces is that, unlike previous superintendents, he moved his family into the State Police compound and lived there rent-free for nine years — a benefit that the state apparently did not report to the Internal Revenue Service.
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State auditors recently found that the Edmonsons lived off inmate labor, making use of trusties who cooked, cleaned and even walked the family dog at the colonel's residence. The questionable use of state resources included the construction of a shoe closet for Edmonson's wife.
But Edmonson's accommodations aren't the only living arrangements at the State Police compound that have drawn investigators' attention.
A few troopers and others in Edmonson's inner circle also lived in "VIP" housing at State Police training facilities, a perk afforded to them "at no charge and without a public purpose," according to a report on a lengthy inquiry by the state Legislative Auditor's Office.
The tenants of the hotel-style rooms included Charles Dupuy, Edmonson's longtime chief of staff, who told officials he "stayed at the Training Academy while going through a divorce," according to a draft of the forthcoming legislative auditor's report obtained by The Advocate.
The Training Academy, located at the State Police compound in Baton Rouge, offers basic training for State Police cadets and continuing education for troopers and other law enforcement agencies.
The facility is equipped with a full-size gym, an indoor track and heated pool, a computer lab and a 250-seat auditorium. It also has a number of dorm rooms and "VIP" housing for which the agency is supposed to charge various nightly rates, according to the legislative auditor's report.
In the case of Dupuy and several other troopers, those rates were waived, often for months and even years at a time. Dupuy had free access to a room for more than five years beginning in April 2012, the audit found. Training Academy personnel said he upgraded to "VIP" housing in July 2016.
Other regular guests included Senior Trooper Thurman D. Miller and Lt. Derrell Williams, both of whom were disciplined this year for taking a circuitous "side trip" to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon as they drove across the country to attend a law enforcement conference in California.
The inclusion of those names in the roster of residents underscores the often cliquish culture among the State Police on Edmonson's watch, in which troopers who curried favor with the superintendent enjoyed special privileges and often found themselves on the fast track to promotion.
Other troopers granted access to rooms included Jason Starnes, whom Edmonson installed as a deputy superintendent, and T.J. Doss, a trooper who in August resigned amid controversy as chairman of the State Police Commission, a seven-member board that hears complaints from rank-and-file troopers and has final authority over civil service matters.
Doss, in his resignation letter, said he had failed to show "discretion." He submitted it a day after a state politics blog, the Louisiana Voice, published an article that accused Doss of submitting time sheets in which he claimed to be working even as he was photographed leaving a Baton Rouge movie theater with Monica Manzella, a fellow State Police commissioner at the time.
Training Academy records show that Manzella — a New Orleans lawyer who also resigned from the commission following the Louisiana Voice post — also received a complimentary room at the compound for at least three nights earlier this year.
Doss, a trooper from Shreveport, had been a guest at the Training Academy as well, having lived there free of charge between December 2016 and June 2017, the records show.
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Miller and Williams, meanwhile, were among the four troopers tapped to drive Dupuy's state-issued SUV to the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego last year.
The legislative auditor estimated the circuitous excursion, which included several sightseeing stops, resulted in at least $13,000 in unnecessary taxpayer expenditures. Williams was the head of the agency's Internal Affairs Division when he made the so-called "side trip," but he was recently demoted and reassigned.
The scandalous side trip hastened Edmonson's retirement in March and prompted Gov. John Bel Edwards to order the legislative audit into State Police travel practices. The auditors ultimately shifted their focus to Edmonson, concluding that he turned the State Police into a personal chauffeur service for his wife and used many other state resources for his personal benefit.
State auditors noted that Williams, after receiving "verbal approval" from Edmonson, "had exclusive access to Training Academy rooms from March 7, 2013, to April 7, 2017." Williams told auditors he would use the rooms during the work week when he was too tired to drive home to Thibodaux. He normally used "regular dormitory rooms," the auditors wrote, "but moved into VIP-level rooms when he worked legislative sessions."
The auditors described the living arrangements as "improper" and recommended the Department of Public Safety and Corrections "discontinue the practice of allowing individuals access to its facilities at no charge."
Troopers staying at the compound "received a benefit equal to the value of their rooms, which were not reported as a taxable benefit on their W-2 forms," the auditors wrote.
Taking advantage of the free living arrangements also could amount to malfeasance in office on the part of some State Police managers, the auditors added, citing state laws that set forth a schedule of nightly rates for the academy rooms.
"Training Academy records indicate that these employees had access to Training Academy rooms for a combined total of at least 3,760 days," the auditors wrote. "Since these rooms were unable to be rented, (State Police) may have incurred a loss of revenue."
State Police declined to comment on the issue of the free rooms.
An agency spokesman, Maj. Doug Cain, said earlier this month that State Police were still preparing a response to the auditors' findings. "Any comment (before that) would be premature and interfere with the legislative auditor's standard procedures and directives to the department," Cain said.
Edmonson did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
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Records obtained by WWL-TV show the State Police did charge some occupants for the use of rooms at the Training Academy.
But the agency waived the cost for several guests, including Karen G. St. Germain, the Office of Motor Vehicles commissioner. The captain of the Training Academy told the auditors that he was directed to provide a complimentary room to St. Germain during a meeting with Edmonson and Frank Blackburn, Edmonson's longtime mentor who before his death served as general counsel to the State Police.
St. Germain told the auditors "she has never paid for use of the room," according to the report, adding that she "was not aware that the Training Academy charged fees for the use of its facilities." She told the auditors she lives in Assumption Parish and only uses the room occasionally during legislative sessions.
The auditors also raised questions about State Police accommodations at the Joint Emergency Services Training Center, a facility in Zachary that the state uses to train personnel in emergency first-response services. The report said that Stephen Campbell, the former OMV commissioner, "resided at JESTC for approximately six months" in 2016.
The auditors, citing State Police records, said Campbell stayed at the facility for at least 163 days "when there was no in-service training."
"There were no records to indicate the reason Mr. Campbell had access to the room" for those days, the auditors wrote.
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