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Daryl Thomas

A state trooper accused of claiming overtime for hours he spent at home offered an impassioned defense Thursday of his career in law enforcement, calling his recent arrest "crazy" and accusing the Louisiana State Police of applying double standards in the discipline of troopers.    

The trooper, Daryl J. Thomas, who became one of the most prolific ticket writers and highest-paid public employees in the state, exhorted the Louisiana State Police Commission to grant him paid leave during his indefinite suspension, saying he has no other means of subsisting and covering his mounting legal fees.  

Thomas said he has been a "pariah in the community" since his arrest in April on counts of theft and filing false public records, adding his home in Jefferson Parish has gone into foreclosure. 

He was paid $240,000 in 2016 — including $147,000 in overtime — thanks in large part to the Local Agency Compensated Enforcement, or LACE, a traffic-ticket program funded by district attorneys around the state.

"I'm really in a bad spot," Thomas said during an unusual and at times rambling monologue. "I couldn't even find a job if I wanted to right now. My picture has been on the news. Everybody knows who I am, and I have three felony charges pending against me." 

"The news reports said, 'This trooper made more than the vice president.' Well, I don't know where that money is or where that money went," he said. "As soon as they put me on suspension and I wasn't able to supplement my income with overtime, I tanked."

The commission denied the trooper's request but, after meeting in executive session, allowed Thomas to continue receiving annual leave and any compensatory time he is owed from the state. The commission, which acts as a civil service board for State Police, said it also may reconsider Thomas' compensation as the criminal proceedings and a related administrative inquiry move forward. 

The vote followed a remarkable public address in which Thomas, speaking against the advice of his attorney, portrayed himself as a workaholic given to carelessness and excessive "errors" in his paperwork. He vehemently denied claiming time for extra-duty hours he did not, in fact, work. 

"Sometimes that stuff starts getting so monotonous you're going to miss some things, and clearly I missed some things," he said. "My stats speak for themselves, so for them to charge me with theft is crazy."  

In an interview, Thomas suggested that State Police brass only decided to arrest him because of the high-profile, WVUE-TV investigation that on multiple occasions caught him at his Harvey home during hours he claimed to be writing speeding tickets along Interstate 10. Thomas insists he was completing paperwork during those instances, and that any other inconsistencies were due to "errors." 

"There's never been a time that I claimed money that I didn't go out there and earn it — I've always been out there," he said. "None of my rank has ever had a problem with any of my work product, and they check my work product." 

Thomas said it was unfair that State Police disciplined — but did not arrest — the group of troopers who in 2016 took an infamous "side trip" to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon as they drove to a law enforcement conference in San Diego. Two of the troopers involved in that scandal were demoted and two others received disciplinary letters. The group has maintained that Mike Edmonson, the longtime former State Police superintendent, approved the troopers' pricey overnight stays and the overtime they claimed driving across the country. 

"That's payroll fraud," Thomas told The Advocate. . 

Thomas, who worked for State Police for more than 23 years, alleged in the interview that the agency enforces an unwritten, illegal quota system in which troopers are required to issue at least two traffic tickets per hour or be removed from working extra-duty LACE shifts. "They'll never admit it," he said, "but it's true." 

Maj. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman, denied that the agency has any kind of ticket quota. But he added that State Police have “performance expectations that troopers work and account for their hours through activity.”

Cain declined to comment on Thomas’ other allegations, citing the ongoing investigation.

Thomas' arrest followed a months-long WVUE-TV investigation that alleged Thomas and other troopers were abusing the LACE program — and committing payroll fraud — by submitting bogus time sheets and falsifying time stamps on tickets.

The station documented one day in which Thomas claimed to have worked 16 hours when WVUE's undercover cameras observed him at his home in Harvey for much of that shift. Two days after that, Thomas again claimed to have worked a 16-hour day even though he was at home for at least six of those hours.

Thomas was among four current and former troopers arrested following State Police's own investigation of the LACE program. The agency suspended that program last year but continued it earlier this year after instituting a number of changes. 

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.