The FBI's investigation of Mike Edmonson has focused in part on his extensive travel as the head of the Louisiana State Police, with agents interviewing current and former pilots about Edmonson's prolific use of state helicopters, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the inquiry.
The bureau has been following up on allegations outlined in a legislative audit that accused Edmonson of taking an array of handouts and tapping state resources for his family's benefit. Agents have questioned a growing list of state troopers — and even inmates who once cooked for Edmonson and his family — and reviewed policies and procedures related to State Police travel, according to two other sources with knowledge of the probe.
The federal inquiry has tracked the legislative audit in many respects, with some officials saying they fielded similar questions from both auditors and agents. But the feds appear to have cast a broader net, reviewing helicopter log books and other travel records related to the frequent trips Edmonson took during his nine years as superintendent.
In what appears to be a new vector, unrelated to the audit, federal investigators also are trying to determine whether Edmonson ever sought freebies from casino owners or anyone else subject to State Police gaming regulations.
"The questioning of the pilots has been strictly about Edmonson and whether there was personal use" of the helicopters, said one of the law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation.
An FBI spokesman declined to comment Tuesday. The investigation is being led by a public corruption task force within the bureau's New Orleans field division, which has worked closely with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Baton Rouge.
Edmonson did not respond to a request for comment on the FBI investigation. He did not contest the auditors' findings before they were published last month but recently submitted a response to the allegations that the Legislative Auditor's Office is expected to make public on Wednesday.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the FBI's interviews of State Police pilots suggests that the federal investigation "is going well beyond what has been publicly disclosed so far" by the legislative auditor.
"It tells me that they're going back and looking at things that occurred during the early years of Edmonson's tenure as superintendent," he said. "I expect that there are other aspects of the internal operations of the State Police that also are being reviewed for potential criminal violations."
Edmonson traveled the world during his tenure as superintendent, attending law enforcement conferences and training events as far away as Israel. He also was frequently on the go in Louisiana, visiting police chiefs and sheriffs in far-flung parishes and making the rounds within the various troops of State Police.
Edmonson relied on Department of Public Safety helicopters for dozens of in-state flights a year, including relatively short journeys to New Orleans from State Police headquarters in Baton Rouge to attend news conferences or to meet with officials at the FBI's Lakefront headquarters.
State records obtained by The Advocate show Edmonson traveled by helicopter at least 159 times between 2010 and 2014, including 46 trips to New Orleans for state business.
Edmonson's former boss, Gov. Bobby Jindal, was criticized for his frequent use of state helicopters to attend church services in northern areas of the state, in part because the helicopters cost hundreds of dollars an hour to operate. Edmonson's successor, Col. Kevin Reeves, has used state helicopters far less than Edmonson, according to officials familiar with his travel.
Federal authorities do not appear to be focusing on the fiscal prudence of Edmonson's travel but rather whether he improperly extended the use of state helicopters to family members or friends. That determination could be aided by flight manifest records, some of which were redacted by the State Police in response to a public records request filed several years ago by The Advocate.
The legislative audit, released last month, alleged that Edmonson ordered troopers to chauffeur his wife around the state, and that he improperly used the Governor's Mansion dry-cleaning service to clean his uniforms while receiving a stipend from the state for dry cleaning.
It also accused the former superintendent of allowing friends to stay in New Orleans hotel rooms — paid for by the city of New Orleans — that had been reserved for troopers providing security at Mardi Gras, and that he and his family lived rent free and without "legal authority" at a residence at the State Police compound.
Edmonson, in a letter to legislative auditor Daryl Purpera that was published with the audit in December, said he felt confident that "residents of this State will not prematurely reach conclusions until all of the facts are presented."