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Louisiana State Police (LSP) captains were called in to headquarters in Baton Rouge on Monday to hear the news that had already leaked out across the state that Superintendent Mike Edmonson was stepping down but officially, the head of LSP’s public information office said he knew nothing of reports that he said were “above my pay grade.”

But truth be told, after the way LouisianaVoice has latched onto the sorry story at LSP, had I been in Doug Cain’s position, I probably would’ve done the same thing. I hold no ill will toward him because he was in an unenviable position. On the one hand, his job is to inform the public but on the other, he had a boss to whom he answered. I’m old enough to grasp the realities of the situation.

That boss, while defiantly denying he would resign as late as last Friday when LouisianaVoice first said he was on his way out (and we did say it first), ended his 36-year career at State Police with a whimper today with his announcement that he would resign his position as the longest-tenured superintendent in LSP history.

Today’s online edition of the Baton Rouge Advocate carried the STORY of Edmonson’s announced retirement and in so doing, tied his decision to the “widening controversy” surrounding that San Diego trip taken by Edmonson and 15 subordinates to see him receive a national award.

But that trip, including the side trip taken to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon by four troopers in a state vehicle en route to San Diego, is not the story of what is really wrong at LSP. As one veteran observer of law enforcement noted, the San Diego trip is a mere symptom of a much larger problem festering in the bowels of State Police headquarters. It was never the story.

This was a story of a State Police Superintendent who once told a group of sheriffs at a roundtable meeting at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Baton Rouge that when it came to choosing between State Police and the sheriffs, his loyalty was with the sheriffs.

There are the ever-persistent rumors of parties, too many parties being held in conjunction with official functions. They simply did not coalesce with what the image of law enforcement is supposed to be about.

There are reports, growing in number even as this is being written, of junkets to New York in private jets paid for by a police uniform vendor, to the Washington Mardi Gras celebration paid for by a local contractor, to Cancun on the private jet of a north Louisiana supporter, and of trips to gaming conferences in the company of the owner of video poker machines (Edmonson is ex-officio member of the State Gaming Commission).

There were seemingly endless reports documented and posted by LouisianaVoice of inconsistent discipline of State Troopers, depending on whether or not the trooper was in the inner circle of the Edmonson clique.

A trooper with multiple prescriptions for a controlled narcotic, instead of being disciplined for showing up to work impaired, was promoted and made commander of Troop D in Lake Charles.

A married lieutenant who, along with a few buddies and a couple of single female “bartenders,” took a borrowed limo to a Vicksburg casino. At the casino, he took one of the girls, who was underage, onto the floor of the casino to play blackjack. He was apprehended by Mississippi gaming officials and tried to negotiate his way out of the situation by proclaiming he was a Louisiana State Police lieutenant and “can’t we work something out?” He was fined $600 by Mississippi officials and promoted to commander of Troop F by Edmonson.

A trooper who twice had sex with a female while on duty (once in his patrol car, no less), was barely disciplined at all.

Troopers at Troop D were given days off for making a minimum number of DWI arrests, no matter if the driver was actually drinking. Just make the arrest and let the district attorney dismiss the case—you’ll still get credit for the stop—that was the unwritten policy.

Another trooper at Troop D owned a daytime construction company. So, instead of working a full shift at night, he would work a couple of hours and then go home to sleep the rest of the night so he could work his private job during the day. This was allowed to go on for an extended period of time until LouisianaVoice revealed what was taking place.

Department of Public Safety (DPS) Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux was allowed to take a buyout for early retirement but stayed retired only a single day before coming back with a promotion and about $55,000 in early buyout money which she was ordered to return—but did not. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/24/edmonson-not-the-first-in-dps-to-try-state-ripoff-subterfuge-undersecretary-retiresre-hires-keeps-46k-incentive-payout/

When she finally retired for good, Edmonson, appearing before a compliant State Police Commission stacked with his supporters, pushed through the creation of a new lieutenant colonel position to take over her duties. In pitching the position, he told the commission that it would create no additional cost and that it was not being designed specifically for Maj. Jason Starnes.

Guess what? Starnes got the job, the promotion, and a $25,000 raise. Now he administers Management and Finance for LSP despite having no accounting degree or background. When member Lloyd Grafton asked about Edmonson’s promise of no additional expense, no one on the commission seemed to remember.

It was Grafton who first used the term “money laundering” when discussing how the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) funneled LSTA funds through the personal checking account of its executive director David Young so that political contributions could be made to key political candidates. Young subsequently submitted expense reports for reimbursement of the campaign contributions. Grafton should know a little about money laundering: he is a retired ATF agent.

The LSTA did refuse Edmonson’s request that the association pen a letter to Governor-elect John Bel Edwards recommending that Edmonson be reappointed superintendent. Edwards reappointed him anyway.

And, going back to 2014, there was that surreptitious amendment inserted onto an otherwise benign bill in the closing minutes of the regular legislative session. State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) did the honors in introducing the amendment. Passed overwhelmingly over the promise that it would have no financial impact on the state budget, it instantly awarded Edmonson a healthy bump in retirement income.

Edmonson had, years earlier, entered what was referred to as DROP, a special retirement plan that was said to be “irrevocable” which at the time locked in his retirement at about $76,000. At the time the amendment was approved, it would have meant an additional $55,000 to his retirement but with the recent pay increases pushing his salary to its current level of $177,400, it would have meant a retirement increase of a whopping $101,000.

LouisianaVoice was notified of the amendment via an anonymous letter. That was when Mike Edmonson first appeared on our radar.

Then State Rep. John Bel Edwards, who unwittingly voted for the amendment, subsequently called for House Speaker Chuck Kleckley to investigate the maneuver but the invertebrate Kleckley refused.

State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) then filed suit in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge and a district court judge struck down the amendment.

Edmonson, true to form, at first denied any knowledge of the amendment but later admitted that one of “his people” came up with the idea and he gave the approval.

That was pretty much in line with the blaming of his secretary for using a signature stamp to approve overtime pay for that San Diego trip and his decision to throw the four who drove to San Diego under the bus for taking an unauthorized detour—even though it has since been learned by LouisianaVoice that he knew the route the four were taking and was in touch by text and phone the entire trip.

That’s the Edmonson persona. He has consistently shirked responsibility for actions that could cast him in a bad light and basked in the glow when things went well. He even is said to have told a retiring trooper—a veteran of two tours in the Mideast wars, no less—that he was a coward and a disgrace to his uniform in a late-night telephone conversation.

While other media have only recently joined in the investigation of LSP and Edmonson (and make no mistake, it was heartening to see them doing solid investigative work), LouisianaVoice has been there all along. This was not a sprint to LouisianaVoice, it was a marathon. And if this sounds a little vain and boastful…well, it is.

And it isn’t over. LouisianaVoice has pending numerous public records requests with LSP on other matters within the agency. We do not intend to let Edmonson’s resignation diminish our ongoing examination of why one man was allowed to bring a great department into such disrepute and disgrace.

The rank and file Louisiana State Troopers deserve better.

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It’s not certain if Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) Chairman T.J. Doss is simply LSPC’s equivalent to Donald Trump or if he’s not seeking or getting sound legal advice from commission legal counsel Lenore Feeney.

Either way, the commission, already reprising author Jimmy Breslin’s Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, just can’t seem to conduct a simple investigation into State Trooper political activity. Nor can Doss seem to get it right when seeking nominations to fill vacancies on the commission.

Article X, Part IV, Sec. 43 (c) of the 1974 Louisiana State Constitution says of nominations for appointment to LSPC:

The presidents of Centenary College at Shreveport, Dillard University at New Orleans, Louisiana College at Pineville, Loyola University at New Orleans, Tulane University of Louisiana at New Orleans, and Xavier University at New Orleans, after giving consideration to representation of all groups, each shall nominate three persons. The governor shall appoint one member of the commission from the three persons nominated by each president.

That should be plain enough. The presidents of the private universities are required to submit three names from the congressional district within which a vacancy occurs.

With four of the six schools located in New Orleans, that can become something of a problem if the vacancy is from, say the Third Congressional District which comprises much of Acadiana and Southwest Louisiana.

But if a vacancy occurs from the Fourth District, common sense says contact the President of Centenary in Shreveport for names of nominees. In the Fifth District, it would be the President of Louisiana College in Pineville.

So, when Lloyd Grafton of Ruston resigned earlier this month, why did Doss contact Gov. Edwards on Feb. 10 to say he was soliciting names from the President of Loyola University in New Orleans? And why did he, on that same day, fire off a letter to Loyola President Rev. Kevin Wildes saying that the Louisiana Constitution requires that Grafton’s vacancy be filled by gubernatorial appointment “from one of three persons nominated by the President of Loyola University”?

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Doss was correct in saying the vacancy had to be filled by someone from the Fifth Congressional District, but there is no such requirement that the names of nominees come from Loyola. Louisiana College is in the Fifth Congressional District and that institution’s president should have been the one contacted for names.

Perhaps Doss has access to alternative facts when complying with the Louisiana Constitution.

Of course, if Feeney dared try to correct him, there is legal precedent for firing the messenger: There’s Trump and his dismissal of interim Attorney General Sally Yates. And there’s the LSPC itself with the manner it forced out former Executive Director Cathy Derbonne in January because she insisted on complying with the law.

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When Lloyd Grafton tendered his resignation from the Louisiana State Police Commission over the shoddy way the commission had forced Executive Director Cathy Derbonne out the month before, it prompted a heated exchange between Grafton and Jared Caruso-Riecke, one of the newer members of the commission which has undergone considerable change in makeup in the past 12 months.

The confrontation between the two also prompted a few choice comments from member Calvin Braxton Jr. of Natchitoches who expressed his displeasure at the direction the commission, the State Police equivalent of the Civil Service Commission, has been going over the past year.

The commission has become increasingly politicized as it has come under the influence of the State Police upper management and the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA). The appointments of Caruso-Riecke of Covington and Monica Manzella of New Orleans, along with the election of T.J. Doss, the State Police representative on the commission, as its president only served to accelerate that shift.

The hiring of outside legal counsel Taylor Townsend, a former state senator and a political supporter of Gov. John Bel Edwards, to conduct a perfunctory investigation of political activity by LSTA members has further distanced the commission from even any pretense of functioning as an independent body.

Manzella, appointed last October, is an assistant city attorney for the City of New Orleans and has signed off on Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) contracts between the City of New Orleans and State Police. Under LACE, state police are paid by the local district attorney to help beef up traffic enforcement. Some have characterized her work on the contracts and her appointment to the commission as a possible conflict of interest.

But with last week’s outburst over Grafton’s comments about his perceived lack of integrity on the commission, it is Caruso-Riecke who bears a closer look because of his association with a racing team that openly boasts of evading law enforcement in attempting to set new cross-country speed records at speeds of up to 140 mph on public highways.

Caruso-Riecke, of Covington, heads up Riecke Construction which has “designed, acquired, and built numerous commercial, residential, and industrial developments throughout the Gulf South for several generations,” reads an online biography of CARUSO-RIECKE. Though he is involved in several other business enterprises, the “several generations” hints that the company’s financial success may have pre-dated his involvement in its operation and that he now benefits from the labors of his predecessors.

(Of course, it’s possible that he took over a mediocre company and propelled it to outrageous success through hard work and shrewd business tactics. On the other hand, it would appear problematic for anyone to maintain a hectic playboy persona while occupied with building a company from the ground up.)

Regardless, Caruso-Riecke, who also stars in a TV reality show, pointed out in January that he takes no per diem or mileage for attending commission meetings. But with $70 million in the bank, why would he? He loves to perpetuate his image of a fast-living bon vivant as evidenced by several online YouTube videos.

In one, he is interviewed by a member of his “Team Riecke” about the modifications to a Mercedes used in cross-country rally competition. Features include two in-dash police scanners, each with more than 1,000 channels, plus a handheld scanner and several cellphones—all used to evade law enforcement on public highways.

At one point, as Riecke pontificates on the features of his rally car in the YouTube INTERVIEW, he reaches into the back seat and retrieves a cover for the police scanners, explaining as he does so (to the amusement of the interviewer) that some states “frown” on such scanner equipment. The cover, when put in place, conceals the scanners and makes the dash appear as a solid component.

One might think he is a modern-day Burt Reynolds reprising his Smoky and the Bandit role—except Burt ain’t nearly cool enough; Burt doesn’t perch a pair of sporty, expensive sunglasses on his forehead in the same cool manner that Caruso-Riecke does.

In the second YouTube POST (warning: graphic language), Riecke places a casual $50,000 bet that another team, obviously friends, can’t beat the record of 32 hours, 51 minutes for driving from New York to Los Angeles. As the bet is made and as team members prepare to depart, one member boasts that the team has 10 separate license plates to help evade law enforcement as he demonstrates a quick plate change for the camera. He explains that if they are spotted and they hear officers on the scanner giving out their plate numbers, they can pull over and switch plates.

The team succeeds in making the New York to L.A. run in 31 hours, 59 minutes, eclipsing the old record by 52 minutes. At one point, they reveal they have averaged about 140 mph over a single 500-mile stretch.

So, what it’s now come down to is that in vetting appointees to the Louisiana State Police Commission, Gov. Edwards has selected a man last June whose hobby is evading law enforcement as he races around the country on public highways at speeds far exceeding 100 mph, laughing about concealing police scanners and apparently condoning switching license plates to further avoid arrest.

Apparently, he thinks he is Peter Pan and will never have to grow up.

And when he’s not behind the wheel, he casually bets against someone’s ability to average 90 mph from New York to Los Angeles. That’s an average speed, folks, for 2800 miles, but at speeds up to 140 mph in some stretches. He so cool that he loses a $50,000 bet in the same blasé manner others would in giving a homeless man a buck or two at a busy intersection.

And now he’s one of the newest appointments to the commission charged with maintaining the integrity of the Louisiana State Police by making sure officers and management play by the rules.

What’s wrong with this picture?

For openers, it should cause one to wonder about integrity on so many levels—that same integrity that Grafton attempted to address but was shouted down by Caruso-Riecke.

Which begs the question of how Caruso-Riecke got appointed in the first place.

Well, when all else fails, follow the money.

For starters, here are just a few political contributions by Caruso-Riecke and his companies:

  • Bobby Jindal—$16,000;
  • John Kennedy—$1,000;
  • Walter Reed—$7,000;
  • Mike Strain—$9,500;
  • Daniel Edwards (Gov. John Bel Edwards’ brother and Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish—$4,500;
  • John Bel Edwards—$5,500.

You’d think that someone with a net worth of $70 million could’ve been a little more generous with the one who would appoint him to his present position on the commission.

 

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One quit, another walked out and a third just said he wanted some answers and a fourth presented a witness who seemed a little too well-coached and in the end, nothing was accomplished because the fifth, aka the chairman, had the look of a Cervidae enrapt in the vehicular illuminating devices (deer caught in the headlights).

Just another routine meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) on Thursday.

Well, maybe not so routine. There was the shouting match between members Jared J Caruso-Riecke (the “fourth” as referenced above) and Lloyd Grafton (the “one” above) with both men invoking words like “best face,” “integrity,” and “pontificate.” Oh, number four said “pontificate” a lot.

Meanwhile, the man around whom the entire controversy swirled, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson was off somewhere out of state collecting another award to go in his trophy case or schmoozing with Louisiana politicos at the Washington MARDI GRAS.

Caruso-Riecke, of Covington, brought Louisiana State Police (LSP) Human Resources Director Ginger Krieg before the commission to explain the smoke and mirrors concept of how the appointment of Jason Starnes to the role of retired Undersecretary of Management and Finance Jill Boudreaux (even though he possesses zero accounting experience) was accompanied by an immediate promotion to lieutenant colonel and a $25,000 per year pay increase without incurring any additional expense as promised by Edmonson.

The position was created last August when Edmonson asked for the creation of an unclassified position to oversee Management and Finance. At the time, he said there would be no addition expenses to LSP and that the position was not being necessarily for Starnes.

Krieg explained that Boudreaux had retired and her $100,000 per year position was never filled so the $25,000 pay increase for Starnes actually amounted to a savings to the state.

What Caruso-Riecke and Krieg failed to mention in their exchange (which seemed so well-rehearsed that one of them should receive an Oscar nomination) was that state statute says the governor “shall” appoint an Undersecretary of Management and Finance. So, if the law is followed and an undersecretary appointed….poof! There goes that savings.

Grafton reiterated what Edmonson had said in August and said Caruso-Riecke was just putting a “good face” on the duplicity of Edmonson, Starnes, and Edmonson’s supporters on the commission. Caruso-Riecke erupted, accusing Grafton of an “absolute falsehood.” He admonished Grafton to not “sit down there and say I’m trying to put a ‘best face’ on something when I’ve gone above and beyond in trying to get to the truth.”

Here is the video link to that EXCHANGE.

“What have you done other than pontificate for the press?” he asked, practically shouting.

Grafton, in a more subdued voice (relatively speaking), said, “I’ve tried to keep some integrity on this commission and there is none. You came on this board with an agenda and that agenda was fulfilled last month when (former Executive Director) Cathy Derbonne resigned from this commission because of the harassment and the crap she was having to put up with since (pointing to commission Chairman T.J. Doss, of Shreveport) a State Trooper was TDY’d (assigned temporary duty) to Baton Rouge to hang around her office every day and to find fault with her and (who) said at a public meeting that he was gonna get rid of Cathy Derbonne. He followed through with that (and) lived up to my low expectations of him and he managed to have this commission stuffed with people who want to endear themselves with State Police management who could care less about the civil service function of this board. The Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) has absolutely helped destroy this commission.”

Grafton said the commission is supposed to investigate, among other things, claims of harassment brought by troopers but now those claims “go straight to management and that trooper doesn’t have a chance. That just destroys the civil service standing of this board.

“I have 55 years of law enforcement education experience. I know something about what is integrity and what is not. Wanting to go to a Christmas party is more important than holding management accountable and it’s going to come back to haunt you.

“The only salvation for this commission is for it to be dissolved and for the Civil Service Commission to take over the oversight of the State Police because right now we have no oversight whatsoever. The Colonel of the State Police (Edmonson) can do anything he wants to. He can lie, he can do anything and he does plenty of it and nobody holds him accountable.”

Caruso-Riecke interrupted Grafton, denying that Edmonson said there would be no pay raise for the new position. “Why don’t you listen to the tape instead of sitting up her pontificating (apparently he likes that word because he kept using it) for the press? For you to sit up here and act like you’re holier-than-thou and the only one with any integrity and character? That’s insulting to everyone else sitting here.”

“Anyone who joined in with that lynching of Cathy Derbonne has no character and I’ll stand by that,” Grafton replied.

“Last I checked, she resigned,” Caruso-Riecke shot back, conveniently forgetting that her fate had long been decided before her resignation.

But Grafton did not forget. “She resigned because she was told she was gonna be fired.”

Donald Breaux of Lafayette asked Grafton to identify those who said she was going to be fired. He had not opened his mouth to that point and probably should not have then since the worst-kept secret in the room was that there were four solid votes, a majority, to fire Derbonne just as Doss had indicated he wanted done. Derbonne was even told that during a 30-minute break in the January proceedings. “You bring up a lot of stuff, Grafton, but you have nothing to back it up with,” said Breaux, a former sheriff.

“When you say Grafton doesn’t know what’s going on in the State Police, you have underestimated my ability to get information,” he said.

Grafton, the most senior member of the commission, subsequently announced that he was attending his final meeting. “I’m through,” he said. “This commission has become useless and the only way it can ever be fixed is for the governor to get involved. I resign.”

His rant was followed in short order by member Calvin Braxton of Natchitoches who said he was not resigning but would refuse to participate in an executive session on the agenda about which he had no prior notice.

“I’m a reasonably intelligent person and I don’t like being kept in the dark and I am being kept out of the loop on this commission. You’ve got an item on the agenda calling for an executive session to discuss a trooper’s appeal. I was told nothing about this and I refuse to be a part of it.”

Here is the link to his part of the discussion:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOMahyElYQ0&feature=youtu.be

Moments later, both he and Grafton were gone.

Then it was Eulis Simien, Jr.’s turn. The Baton Rouge attorney, who was appointed to the board last year, said like Grafton, it was his impression at the conclusion of Edmonson’s presentation last August that there would be no pay raise involved for the new position. “I said at a prior meeting that I would like for the person who said that to come to us and explain what he said,” he said. “Instead, we get the head of HR. That’s not who made the presentation to us last August. I asked for him to come before us and I want him to come before us.”

All the bantering, shouting and “pontification” of Thursday’s meeting comes on the heels of a 13-page report by the Louisiana Board of Ethics that investigated the practice by the LSTA of having its Executive Director David Young make political campaign contributions in his name to circumvent prohibitions against political involvement and then reimbursing Young for “expenses.”

It was LouisianaVoice’s initial story about the contributions more than a year ago that launched the investigation which resulted in three former LSPC members being forced to resign when it was learned that they, too, had contributed to campaigns.

The recent Ethics Board report only went back to 2014, so the $10,000 in contributions to former Gov. Bobby Jindal were not included in its investigation. It did, however reveal that LouisianaVoice‘s report that $10,000 was contributed to Gov. John Bel Edwards was considerably less than the $17,500 actually contributed to his campaign.

LSTA and Young got off extremely light with a fine of only $5,000, the document reveals. While state law allows an imposition of a penalty “equal to the amount of the contribution plus 10 percent ($35,000 plus $3,500 in this case), LSTA and Young were actually subject to fines of about $70,000, or twice amount of the total contributions, for “a knowing and willful violation.”

Young had admitted to the LSPC more than a year ago that the money was laundered through his personal account so as to allow the LSTA to get around the prohibition against such political activity. That constitutes “a knowing and willful violation.”

It was the embarrassment of the LSTA and Edmonson that forced the LSPC to conduct a sham investigation of the activity, an investigation that resulted in the recommendation that “no action be taken.” That recommendation was made by Natchitoches attorney and former State Sen. Taylor Townsend, a political supporter of Gov. Edwards who was paid $75,000 to issue an unwritten, “no action” recommendation.

And on Thursday, it culminated in the resignation of a conscientious commission member, the walkout of an honorable member, and further questions from another member who appears to want to do the right thing—if someone would just tell him what was said.

But there are four other votes on the commission and their interests obviously lie elsewhere.

Why else would the commission have as its chairman a State Trooper who conceivably could one day be called on to investigate his boss?

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“You need to talk to Lenore Feeney. She’s the attorney in the red jacket.”

—State Police Commission Chairman T.J. Doss, dodging reporters following the ouster of LSPC Executive Director Cathy Derbonne.

“I’m not been authorized to make a comment.”

—Lenore Feeney in the red jacket, to reporters moments later.

 

“Please tell me your intentions as to the re-appointment of Mike Edmonson.”

—Tom Aswell, LouisianaVoice Publisher, in email to State Rep. John Bel Edwards at 10:27 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2015, as he headed into runoff with David Vitter in 2015 general election for governor.

“I don’t intend one way or the other.”

—Email response of John Bel Edwards to Aswell at 12:50 p.m. on Oct. 27.

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