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Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

Bobby Jindal said in a 2015 address to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that teachers are still at their jobs only by virtue of their being able to breathe.

That was when he was touting his ambitious education reform package that was designed to promote and enrich the operators of charter and virtual schools by pulling the financial rug from under public education in Louisiana.

That, of course, only served to further demoralize teachers and to punish those students from low-income families who could not afford charter schools but all that mattered little to Jindal. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that his former chief of staff Steve Waguespack now heads LABI.

Lest one think that sorry attitude toward teachers and the teaching profession went away in January 2016 when Jindal exited the governor’s office, leaving a fiscal mess for his successor, John Bel Edwards, think again.

Here’s a little wakeup call for those of you who may have been lulled into a false sense of security now that the husband of a teacher occupies the governor’s office: That disdain for public education has carried over into the halls of Congress via this proposed new tax bill now being ironed out between the House and Senate.

Much has already been written about how the tax bill is supposed to benefit the middle class when in reality it does just the opposite—yet those blindly loyal zealots, those supporters of child molesters, those adherents of the Republican-can-do-no-wrong-because-they-wrap-themselves-in-a-flag-and-wave-a-bible-in-one-hand-and-a-gun-in-the-other mantra continue to drink the Kool-Aid and cling to the insane theory that Trump, Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell, Bill Cassidy and John Neely Kennedy have their best interests at heart.

These delusional people get all bent out of shape when a jock refuses to kneel at a football game because they consider it an affront to our military (it’s not) while this tax bill rips more than $40 billion from HUD, including programs that help provide housing for homeless VETERANS. How’s that for honoring our fighting men and women? Where the hell are your real priorities?

Any of you die-hard Republicans out there on Medicare? Are you ready to take a $25 billion HIT? You will under this tax “reform.”

All you Trump supporters who have been so critical of the federal deficit prepared to see that deficit increased by a whopping $1.4 trillion? Sens. Cassidy and Kennedy are. So are Reps. Steve Scalise, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson, Ralph Abraham and Garrett Graves.

Those of you with college kids presently on tuition exemptions like TOPS might want to get ready; your son or daughter is going to have to declare those benefits as taxable income. Is that why you voted Republican?

And while all this is going down, you can take comfort in the knowledge that the proposed tax “reform” will eliminate the tax on inherited fortunes (you know, the kind that made Donald Trump Donald Trump) and will maintain the “carried interest” loophole which taxes the fees of private-equity fund managers (read: the mega-rich, Wall Street bankers, etc.) at low capital gains rates instead of the higher income tax rates.

But after all that’s said and done, the part of the tax bill that really turns my stomach, the part that sticks in my throat, is a provision that is of so small an amount as to be insignificant—if it weren’t for the principle of the whole thing.

Call it a carry over from Jindal, a snub of teachers, or whatever, it’s galling.

Here it is:

Teachers, particularly elementary teachers, traditionally spend hundreds of dollars per year of their own money on materials and supplies for their classrooms. And it’s not for them, it’s for the children. Keep that in mind, folks. While there are parents out there who would rather buy meth and booze and cigarettes than supplies for their kids, there are teachers who quietly enter the school supply stories and stock up so that kid will have a chance.

Call it personal, if you wish, and it might well be. When I was a student at Ruston High School, I was injured right after school one day. My English teacher, Miss Maggie Hinton, never hesitated. She led me to her powder blue 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air and took me to Green Clinic—and paid the doctor to patch me up. You never hear the Jindals of the world tell those kinds of stories. They don’t fit their agenda.

Under the present tax laws, these teachers, who on average spend $500 to $600 per year (school principals, by the way spend an average of $683 of their own money annually on snacks and other food items for students, decorations and supplies like binders and paper), can take a tax deduction of up to $250 for those expenditures. (And to interject a very personal story, once, while I was making a purchase for a school in Livingston Parish at Clegg’s Plant Nursery, the owner would not accept my money. He donated the items because he, too, supports public education.)

Now understand, that’s a tax deduction of up to $250, not a tax credit, which would be a dollar-for-dollar tax cut. A deduction benefits the teacher only $40 or so off her taxes. But at least it’s something.

The Senate version of the new tax bill would double that deduction to $500, thank you very much.

So, what’s my beef?

Nothing much…except the HOUSE version would eliminate the deduction in its entirety.

That’s right. While the Republicans want to take care of the fat cats (those in Trump’s income bracket would realize tax breaks of approximately $37,000), teachers, under the House version of this tax bill would no longer get even that paltry $40. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Thank you, Garrett Graves, et al.

That really angers me and it should anger every person in Louisiana with even a scintilla of a conscience.

Because teachers are my heroes. Nearly fifty-seven years after graduating from Ruston High School, my heroes are still named Hinton, Ryland, Perkins, Garner, Lewis, Peoples, Edmunds, Barnes,  Johnson, Garrett & Garrett (any I omitted is only because I took no classes under them). They took a personal interest in a kid with no real promise and made him a little better person. They and my grandparents alone have stood the test of what a true hero should be.

And I am proud to defend the honor of teachers everywhere in their memory.

And the fact that five Louisiana House members—who, by the way, are all up for reelection in 2018—voted for this tax “reform” bill that slaps my heroes in the face really pisses me off.

Did I mention those five are up for reelection next year? That’s 2018, less than a year from now.

A smart voter remembers who represents him.

Those not so smart should go fishing on election day.

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It’s a common practice in investigative reporting to have confidential sources. I do myself because in many of those cases, the information comes from a person who cannot afford to have his identity revealed for fear of reprisals. Often a person must conceal his identity because to do otherwise could mean the loss of his job at worst, impossible working conditions at best.

Perhaps that is why New Orleans TV station WWL scrambled for damage control when LouisianaVoice revealed the source of the leaked Louisiana State Police (LSP) audit that was so critical of the management missteps of former LSP Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

Obviously, WWL and its news partner, the Baton Rouge Advocate, were trying to protect the identity of the one who leaked the audit (or indeed, may not of even known the source—I’ve received anonymous tips before; the story of the attempt to bump up Edmonson’s retirement by about $100,000 is an example) but WWL got a little sloppy when, in the course of airing its story, showed a copy of the audit’s cover letter to Edmonson.

They either didn’t know or forgot that cover letter went out to only one person—Edmonson. Only two copies of the audit were printed and the other, sans cover letter, went to LSP.

So, by showing that letter in its video coverage of the audit report, WWL blew Edmonson’s cover even as Edmonson was, in my late grandfather’s vernacular, squealing like a stuck pig over the “premature release” which he said adversely affected his response to the audit—just the way he planned it.

By crying foul, he could claim his defense, in case of subsequent criminal charges, has been tainted. After all, a Baton Rouge judge recently ruled that while Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera is protected as a public official from legal liability for the contents of an audit of the Louisiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs, he is not necessarily protected by a news release issued by the auditor’s office concerning the contents of that audit. The judge, in his ruling, has allowed a lawsuit by the former secretary of Veterans’ Affairs to go forward on that basis.

Edmonson then, or most likely his legal counsel, saw an opening. A premature release of the audit before Edmonson had a chance to respond could conceivably prejudice the case against Edmonson. Accordingly, Edmonson (or more likely someone acting anonymously on his behalf) slipped a copy of the audit to The Advocate/WWL.

It might have worked had it not bee for the posting of that cover letter on WWL. That let the cat out of the bag and exposed Edmonson as the leak.

WWL, in an effort to save face, quickly removed the video from its web page after LouisianaVoice blew the whistle. Now there’s just a story but no video.

But as a LSP officials said on Monday, “There are a ton of screen shots of the letter floating around out there, so it’s not gone.”

Two quotes come immediately to mind.

From Andy Taylor, talking to Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show:

“There’s mischief afoot.”

From the late C.B. Forgotston:

“You can’t make this stuff up.”

 

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It was a possibility almost too bizarre an idea to entertain.

It was just too weird to even consider.

The evidence was right there, however, for all to see and the conclusion was inescapable.

Mike Edmonson, erstwhile Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police (LSP) and once the most powerful law enforcement official in the state, had outed himself.

It’s not as if he had not been disgraced enough already. From the ill-fated but almost successful attempt to pad his own retirement in defiance of existing state regulations to that astonishingly ill-fated San Diego misadventure—with at least a dozen ugly stories of mismanagement, questionable promotions, and assorted rumors squeezed in between—would bring an ordinary man to disgrace.

But to leak a state audit that turned a glaring light on his propensity to use his position for personal financial gain and which may have left him exposed to major IRS penalties and even prosecution is the latest in a long line of of incredibly poor decisions that leaves observers a little incredulous.

Yet, that’s exactly what happened. Mike Edmonson—or someone acting on his behalf—leaked a copy of that devastating audit to the Baton Rouge Advocate and/or New Orleans television station WWL, which identifies itself as a news partner of the Advocate.

Do the math. There were only two copies of the audit. One went to LSP. The other was sent to Edmonson. The one provided Edmonson included a cover letter addressed to him. The one received by LSP did not contain that cover letter. That pretty much narrows the origin of the leak to a single source—Edmonson himself.

And when you watch the WWL report, 40 seconds into the VIDEO there is a shot of that cover letter dated Nov. 28 and addressed to “Dear Colonel Edmonson.”

Oops.

Pause the video at that spot and you can see for yourself that the first two paragraphs of that letter read:

“Enclosed please find a draft of our investigative audit report regarding the Department of Public Safety and Corrections – Public Safety Services – Office of State Police. Draft reports are not public documents and should be maintained in a confidential manner until the final report is officially released by the Legislative Auditor (Emphasis ours).

“At this time, we are asking you to provide any information you may have which may affect the findings contained in the draft report. Any information deemed material will be included in the final report. If you choose to respond, please respond no later than noon on December 12, 2017. Your written response will be included as part of the final report.”

Edmonson, as has been typical of him all along, again reacted as the aggrieved victim. He texted Advocate reporter Jim Mustian in advance of Friday’s publication of the audit’s findings to complain that if he (Mustian) published the audit’s contents prior to the release of the final report “you will be negating my legal right to review. The process is for me to respond back to them first, not the media. Whoever furnished you with the report did so without the approval of the auditor’s office,” he said.

It is important to parse his words here. When he said whoever furnished the report did so “without the approval of the auditor’s office,” notice he did not say it was without his approval. But the most important passage was “you will be negating my legal right to review.” (Emphasis ours)

That’s key. By first leaking the document and then, after Mustian contacted him for a comment before publication, following up with that email, Edmonson could have been setting the stage for his legal strategy. He will no doubt lawyer up if he has not done so already. And you can expect his legal counsel to claim that he was:

  • ratted out by disgruntled former subordinates;
  • treated unfairly by reporters and bloggers;
  • tried in the court of public opinion before he ever had a chance to defend himself from the ravenous wolves.

He will likely claim the premature release of the audit has placed him at an unfair disadvantage from which it will all but impossible for him recover.

And you can bet he did not leak the audit directly, but through a third party. Or if he did leak it directly, it was via a fictitious email account that could not be traced back to him. One person who knows Edmonson said he suspects it was by an email account set up under an alias. “Or it may have been done by an attorney,” though, he said he would first start “with Mike.”

The same person said he did not think Edmonson was smart enough to attempt a preemptive strike to gain a legal edge by claiming his defense was tainted by the premature release.

He said he audit report, while likely reflecting most adversely on Edmonson, probably includes other findings against the entire department which may have led Edmonson to believe the focus would be on the broader agency issues. “If that’s the reason, it was a huge miscalculation,” he said. “In fact, whatever his motive, it was a huge error. The audit is damning in its detail.

“And when I was watching WWL, I saw the closeup with his name on the cover letter. There was the smoking gun.”

 

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First of all, let’s give credit where it’s due: Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Jim Mustian pulled off a major coup in securing and publishing the FINDINGS of the Legislative Auditor’s preliminary report of its audit of Louisiana State Police (LSP). The fact that the document is a draft and not the final document in no way diminishes the importance of the findings nor does it really matter how Mustian obtained it—except perhaps to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

Former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, who was subjected to withering criticism in the report, is livid that it was leaked before he had an opportunity to respond to its findings. He texted Mustian to say that by reporting the audit’s contents, “you will be negating my legal right to review. The process is for me to respond back to them first, not the media. Whoever furnished you with the report did so without the approval of the auditor’s office,” he said.

Purpera told LouisianaVoice that he is confident the leak did not come from his office because he tracks who has access to reports prior to their release. That would appear to narrow the premature release to someone within LSP. But appearances are misleading.

As the officials say during those college and NFL football games, upon further review, a WWL-TV newscast about the audit Friday may have inadvertently revealed the real source of the leak. If you go to the 40-second spot on this VIDEO, you will see a screenshot of the auditor’s Nov. 28 cover letter to….Edmonson. The only other audit copy went to LSP but that one did not contain the cover letter to the former superintendent.

That can mean only one thing: The audit report was leaked by none other than Edmonson himself—or by someone to whom he provided a copy of the report.

So, it would seem that his anger over the premature release of the audit is somewhat misplaced.

And the fact remains that had Edmonson not gamed the system to his and his family’s advantage, there would be no reason for him to find it necessary to exercise his “legal right to review.”

Edmonson, who many rank-and-file troopers refer to as “Precious,” said he was preparing a detailed response to the “lengthy” report and that he looked forward to “answering any questions after the release of the final report.” We can’t wait.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a New Orleans watchdog group that monitors public wrongdoing, said the audit showed Edmonson to be “less the colonel of the State Police and more the Boss Hog of the State Police,” a reference to the popular TV series that ran from 1979 to 1985. He said the audit signaled “a day of celebration” for rank-and-file troopers who were aware of what Edmonson was doing to the organization and of his “self-serving decisions.”

Meanwhile, details that have come out of LSP headquarters about the manner in which Edmonson mixed personal and departmental business, accepted free hotel rooms and other services, and generally ran the department like his own fiefdom has gotten the attention of the feds.

“The Louisiana State Police has been and continues to coordinate efforts with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding this matter,” said Maj. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman, in a statement to The Advocate and to LouisianaVoice.

U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson, of the Middle District of Louisiana, confirmed that his office “has been and will continue coordinating with State Police,” Mustian reported.

LSP Public Affairs Officer Lt. J.B. Slaton also said, “We continue to cooperate with the Legislative Auditor’s office. The department is currently formulating our response to the findings and recommendations of the audit. That response will be included in the final report and disseminated by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.” He said any further comment “would be premature and interfere with the Legislative Auditor’s standard procedures and directives to the department.”

So, what, exactly, does that audit report say?

Well, here are a few of the low points taken from Mustian’s story:

  • He used a state credit card to purchase more than $7,000 in special meals without approval from the Division of Administration and without sufficient documentation to show their business purpose.
  • He moved his family into the Department of Public Safety (DPS) compound “without legal authority” to do so, allowing taxpayers to pick up the cost of his utilities, including cable TV and electricity. Its formal name is the Residential Conference Center. It was constructed in 2002 and intended only to house the governor and State Police superintendent during emergencies such as hurricanes.
  • He did not include his use of the residence, valued at nearly $435,000, as a fringe benefit on his federal form W-2 during the time he and his family resided there, from February 2008 (right after his appointment by Bobby Jindal) to March 2017 when he retired under fire from the now notorious San Diego TRIP. Auditors feel he should have paid taxes on the benefit but are uncertain if he did. Perhaps that’s one of the questions he will answer.
  • He made a practice of requiring state troopers to transport his wife to various places: bar-hopping in New Orleans, gambling in Lake Charles, to the Baton Rouge airport, or to take his wife, mother-in-law and a friend to and from a Bob Seger concert in Lafayette. On one such occasion, troopers said they were ordered to escort Mrs. Edmonson and a friend to the French Quarter while they were wearing costumes that may have included parts of the LSP uniform.
  • He procured complimentary hotel rooms in New Orleans for friends and family and even received improper reimbursement for them. He allowed friends and family to stay in extra hotel rooms that were paid for by the city of New Orleans and which were intended for troopers working Mardi Gras detail. He would receive multiple rooms in his name or the names of other troopers, the report said. He also received reimbursement from State Police for a hotel room in 2014 even though the city of New Orleans had reserved a room for him in a different hotel. In February 2015, he allowed two friends to stay in a Windsor Court suite that was intended for troopers. He admitted inviting the friends but said he thought they paid for the room. A friend of Edmonson’s said Edmonson booked rooms for him and his wife at Windsor Court on numerous occasions but that they did not know they were paid for by the city of New Orleans. In 2016, Edmonson obtained another room and Loews New Orleans Hotel for his stepdaughter and her friend that was intended for a trooper. Edmonson claimed it was an “extra room” that had been taken out of service because the air conditioner was broken.
  • He annually received free tickets to the Endymion Mardi Gras Extravaganza. State law prohibits public servants from accepting anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person or organization who has or is seeking contractual or other business or financial relationships with that public servant’s agency. Endymion paid LSP nearly $400,000 from 2013 to 2017 for security details.
  • He received more than $6,300 between January 2014 and March 2017 as a daily allowance from LSP to pay for cleaning his uniform. Yet he used the dry-cleaning service at the Governor’s Mansion to clean his uniform and other clothing for free.
  • He consistently failed to pay for his meals at the State Police cafeteria. While he told auditors it was possible during his tenure that he walked out of the cafeteria without paying for his coffee, the cafeteria manager said he failed to pay for his meals at least half the time.
  • He ordered inmates to deliver food to his residence, used state resources to service his son’s jeep and his wife’s vehicle, and had prisoners cook, clean, and walk the family dog.

Those were some of the specifics. In general terms, the audit painted a portrait of a freeloader who was not above taking every handout that came his way, Mustian said.

Basically, most of the points covered are things the media knew—or at least suspected— Edmonson was doing all along, so the audit’s criticisms are really nothing new at all.

One LouisianaVoice reader wrote on Facebook, “Karma is such a good thing.”

Some have a different word for it.

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The long-anticipated Louisiana State Police (LSP) REPORT on the infamous trip to San Diego by way of the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and Hoover Dam in a state vehicle by four state troopers is finally out and it does not bode well for the four or former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

The report says “there is sufficient evidence to prove a procedural or criminal violation” against Lt. Rodney Hyatt, Maj. Derrell Williams and troopers Thurman Miller and Alexandr Nezgodinsky. Hyatt and Williams have since been demoted to sergeant and lieutenant, respectively. 

(CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE)

But the most damning revelation of the 332-page report is contained in a single paragraph in which Hyatt described to State Police investigators how Edmonson last March 14 took his (Hyatt’s) state-issue cellphone and deleted all text messages older than 30 days.

That paragraph says:

“…Investigators requested Lt. Hyatt provide his personal cellphone records from October 10-20, 2016, and he complied…Lt. Hyatt informed investigators that on March 14, 2017, he attended a Louisiana Trooper Foundation meeting. Colonel Edmonson was present and informed him he (Edmonson) was retiring. According to Lt. Hyatt, Colonel Edmonson mentioned to him that text messages would stay on his cellphone forever and said he (Edmonson) would show him (Hyatt). Lt. Hyatt said Colonel Edmonson took his cellphone and went to the settings feature and manipulated the settings to delete any texts/messages older than 30 days. Lt. Hyatt explained the settings feature was set to keep texts/messages forever before Colonel Edmonson changed it. Therefore, he had no texts/messages on his cellphone from 2016.” 

The Internal Affairs investigation was ordered by Edmonson himself and it was initiated on Feb. 22—nearly a month before Edmonson deleted the text messages from Hyatt’s state cellphone. If true, that would mean that Edmonson knowingly destroyed evidence in an ongoing investigation.

That would be particularly egregious in light of the contents of two other documents contained in the report obtained Thursday by LouisianaVoice.

The first, dated Feb. 24, is one of four identical letters sent to Hyatt, Williams, Miller and Nezgodinsky which cites LSP regulation 209(7)(i): “Internal Affairs Investigators or Designated Administrative Investigators shall receive the full cooperation of any employee of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Public Safety Services, during the course of an administrative investigation.” (Emphasis theirs.)

The other is also a duplicate given each of the four under Edmonson’s name and title which says:

“As a direct representative of the appointing authority, I hereby order you to answer all questions truthfully, completely and unevasively.

“You should understand that by refusing to obey this order, even at the advice of counsel, you can be disciplined for insubordination. The punishment for insubordination can be up to and including termination of employment.” (Emphasis mine.)

What makes those to passages especially significant, besides Edmonson’s alleged destruction of evidence during an ongoing investigation, is his own refusal to cooperate with investigators two months into the investigation and about a month after his retirement.

He sat for one informal interview during which he acknowledged speaking with Hyatt before their departure and that their discussion included the so-called “northern” route that would take the four on their side trip. But he said he never approved the group to claim time for expenses related to their travel and lodging.

“On April 18, 2017,” the report says, “investigators asked Colonel Edmonson by telephone if he would be willing to provide a formal statement pertaining to the ongoing investigation. Colonel Edmonson state he didn’t have any additional information to add to what he had informally mentioned prior to his retirement.

“On May 11, 2017, investigators emailed Colonel Edmonson requesting a formal interview.”

The email sent to Edmonson on May 11 read:

“As previously discussed, the Department would like to interview you pertaining to the current investigation being conducted into the 2016 IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) Conference. Please advise as soon as possible of your availability/willingness as we are trying to conclude the investigation.”

“Later that day,” the report says, “Colonel Edmonson contacted investigators and essentially declined a formal interview by stating he didn’t have any additional information to add to what he had informally mentioned prior to his retirement.

So much for Edmonson’s compliance with the same standards to which he held subordinates.

“Investigators obtained Colonel Edmonson’s state-issued cellphone records and they did not reveal any text messages sent to any of the group from October 10-20, 2016. It should be noted Colonel Edmonson had an iPhone which utilized ‘iMessage,’ an Apple messaging feature, and the messages would not show up on the cellphone carrier’s messaging log.” (Emphasis theirs.)

The report meticulously recreated the time sequence for the travel to San Diego, including receipts for times when the four stopped for meals, gasoline, hotels and sightseeing. It even tracked their activity during the conference and questioned expense vouchers and time sheets, most of which has been covered in previous stories by LouisianaVoice and the Baton Rouge ADVOCATE.

The report concluded, “It’s obvious Colonel Edmonson was aware they visited those locations based on photos sent to him by Mrs. Hyatt, telephone calls between he (sic) and Lt. Hyatt, and statements obtained during the investigations.”

The Legislative Auditor’s office is also winding up an investigative audit of LSP as a result of the furor created by the trip.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore has initiated an INVESTIGATION into the suspension of three State Troopers for being paid overtime for work they may not have performed following a New Orleans TV station’s early November exposure of abuses under the Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) program.

It’s been more than a year since that San Diego trip but Moore has been strangely quiet about the payments collected by the four troopers.

It will be interesting to see if he will open an investigation into Edmonson’s deleting text messages from a state cellphone that were relevant to an ongoing investigation.

 

 

 

 

 

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