Any parent can tell you it's a big deal who your kids hang out with. If your teenager's friends are pot smokers, chances are good your teen will end up smoking the stuff, too. But if your son or daughter's friends frown on smoking the reefer, then your kids most likely will avoid it. Most of us reflect and live out the values of our inner circle. That's why the scandal surrounding former Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson is all the more disturbing. For Edmonson to get away with what he did for so many years, too many in his inner circle in the department had to know about it and say nothing. This is much bigger than him.
A startling legislative auditor's report paints a picture of Edmonson fearlessly, openly and illegally using taxpayer money for the benefit of family and friends. The audit reports Edmonson not only had taxpayers foot the bill for his wife's dry cleaning, but they also were routinely on the hook for chauffeuring her around for personal errands. Edmonson required troopers to drive his wife to go bar-hopping in New Orleans, gambling in Lake Charles, and to see a Bob Seger concert in Lafayette. Edmondson had to know this wasn't legal. So did the troopers forced to chauffeur his wife around on the taxpayer's dime.
The auditor's report also found Edmonson charged thousands of dollars of unauthorized meals on his state credit card. He used prison labor for cooking, cleaning, and even walking his dog. And without the legal authority to do so, Edmonson lived rent-free at the Residential Conference Center, according to the auditor's report. It was a fringe benefit worth more than $430,000.
Edmonson had set himself up as king and his wife queen. And his friends benefited from his willingness to abuse taxpayer money. He allowed friends to stay free in hotel rooms during Mardi Gras paid for by New Orleans taxpayers. The rooms were supposed to go for troopers working during the event. Certainly Edmonson, his friends staying in the rooms, and others in the department had to know this was illegal.
The Louisiana State Police agency has seen better times. Fox 8 News in New Orleans recently uncovered a trooper making $240,000 a year by padding his time sheet with overtime he did not earn. And then there was the taxpayer-funded junket to Las Vegas, with side trips, that led to Edmonson's resignation. It was a trip the superintendent originally claimed he knew nothing about. Text messages later proved otherwise. The troopers on the Las Vegas boondoggle had to know they were abusing tax dollars and what they were doing was probably illegal.
It would have been impossible for Edmonson to pull off the abuses documented in the legislative auditor's report without his leadership team and inner circle knowing about much of it and looking the other way. It is true those who sat by and said nothing would have been taking a considerable risk to their livelihoods and careers for speaking out. But to whom much is given, much is required. We endow law enforcement with great power and authority over the public. We should in turn expect the highest ethics from them. I am sure most troopers are trustworthy and would speak up if they witnessed a crime even if committed by one of their own. But it is clear too many of them were willing to look the other way during the reign of Mike Edmonson as superintendent.
The Louisiana State Police motto is "Courtesy, loyalty, and service." It appears too many troopers were loyal to Edmonson instead of the law and served the superintendent instead of taxpayers.
Whether Edmonson will eventually face criminal charges or have to at the very least pay taxes on the hundreds of thousands of dollars of unreported perks he got as superintendent is unknown. The 58-year-old retired with a six-figure pension, so he won't be heading to the poor house anytime soon. But at minimum, state leaders should launch a thorough investigation into an agency that clearly has lost its way under the longest-serving superintendent in state history.
Dan Fagan is a former TV and radio broadcaster who lives in Metairie. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.