John Kennedy

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy asked state officials Wednesday to seek back tax payments from Mike Edmonson, the former State Police superintendent, for the nine years during which Edmonson lived rent-free at the State Police compound in Baton Rouge.  

Edmonson's benefits and living arrangements — his family relied on the cooking and cleaning services of prisoners — have been called into question by a scathing draft legislative audit obtained by The Advocate.

The final audit has yet to be released, but the draft criticizes Edmonson's use of the residence at State Police headquarters and suggests it should have been considered a taxable benefit.

Auditors also questioned numerous other freebies Edmonson received, including free hotel rooms in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, chauffeuring services for his family provided by troopers under his command, free dry-cleaning services even as he received a stipend for dry cleaning and dog-walking services provided by state prisoners.

Kennedy said it was "clear" those benefits "constituted taxable income" and that Edmonson "should have calculated their fair market value and reported them as taxable income."

"Col. Edmonson is not above the law," Kennedy wrote in a letter to Kimberly Robinson, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Revenue. "In fact, he took on an added responsibility as a public servant to conduct himself with honor and honesty."

Kennedy, who is said to be considering a run for governor in 2019, also noted pointedly that under Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration the Legislature has raised taxes and said, "The least you can do is demand that his cabinet appointees pay their taxes."

Edmonson, who served under Gov. Bobby Jindal for most of his years as superintendent, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo fired back at Kennedy in a statement noting that the senator was state treasurer when Edmonson moved into the State Police compound "but said absolutely nothing" about the arrangement at the time.     

"Sen. Kennedy is not one to pass up an opportunity to get a headline," Carbo said. 

"This indicates that he's not interested in protecting taxpayers but rather playing politics as usual," Carbo added. "With so much going on in Congress, like the reauthorization of (the Children's Health Insurance Program) that expired under his watch, you'd think he'd be focused on his own job. Our administration will follow the law, and we'll await the final audit report before we jump to any conclusions."

The legislative auditors wrote that Edmonson moved his family into the State Police residence "without legal authority" and that he had the state pick up his utility bills, including cable television and electricity. At some point, a shoe closet was constructed for Edmonson's wife.

"Statements from (Department of Public Safety) employees indicate that Col. Edmonson is the only State Police superintendent to move his family into" the compound, the auditors wrote.

The auditors noted that Edmonson's use of the residence — at an estimated value of $434,720 from February 2008 to March 2017 — wasn't included as a fringe benefit on his W-2 forms. It is unclear whether Edmonson paid federal taxes on the benefit, but the auditors indicated that he should have.

Earlier this week, Timmy Teepell, Jindal's former chief of staff, wrote in a letter to The Advocate that he personally approved Edmonson's living arrangements, saying the accommodations were "in the best interest of not only the taxpayers of Louisiana, but also the safety and security of the families of Louisiana." 

"I wanted our superintendent of State Police to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to every emergency facing our people," Teepell wrote. "That's why I decided it best for Mike Edmonson to live at the State Police headquarters in a house built by taxpayers."

Teepell's letter did not address the auditors' concerns about the taxable benefits associated with Edmonson's housing. 

The residence, known formally as the Residential Conference Center, was built in 2002 to house the governor and State Police superintendent during emergency situations. In his letter, Teepell referred to the home as a "nondescript ranch house."

"It seems that some believe it would be better for this house to sit empty and the superintendent to live elsewhere," Teepell wrote. "Until these accusers make their case, I remain unconvinced that leaving this house vacant is a better use of taxpayer dollars."

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.