It’s a classic political maneuver whenever a public figure is in trouble: get out in front of the story and release it yourself to make yourself either the good guy or a sympathetic figure—whichever the situation dictates.
Take Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson, for example.
First, he yanks a national award intended for a former Trooper of the Year and gets himself nominated instead, which by most standards, is a really shoddy way to treat a subordinate.
The he invites 15 of his best friends, also LSP subordinates, with him to San Diego to watch him bask in the moment—at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) 123rd Annual Conference and Exposition held on October 15-18, 2016.
And he dispatches four of those to drive to California in an unmarked State Police SUV permanently assigned to his second in command, Charles Dupuy.
But when he realizes that LouisianaVoice, which has been working on this story for a couple of months now, and New Orleans TV investigative reporter Lee Zurik are planning to release a fairly critical story Monday night about his little escapade, he decides to beat them to the punch by going PUBLIC with his version of events.
But in doing so, this so-called “leader” callously tosses the four who drove the state vehicle under the bus while professing none too convincingly to be “embarrassed” by the whole affair. I mean, it’s a little difficult to be embarrassed when one of the four’s expenses for the trip was approved by Dupuy.
So much for the Loyalty part of that “Courtesy, Loyalty, Service” motto of the Louisiana State Police. If you’re going to give permission (as Edmonson did) for four men to drive to California and they take a state vehicle permanently assigned to your second in command, and that same second in command (Dupuy) signs off on the expenses of the senior member of the four (Williams), then it necessarily means that the top brass of Louisiana State Police (Edmonson, Dupuy, et al) were complicit and Edmonson can hardly discipline the four without coming down on Dupuy as well.
Sour grapes? You bet. No one likes being scooped on a story in which so much time and effort has been devoted. And this is not to be taken as criticism of The Advocate. In their shoes, I would not have done things any differently. And it’s certainly obvious that reporter Jim Mustian he did more than a little digging on his own as evidenced by his interview with a spokesman for the Metropolitan Crime Commission in New Orleans. We don’t begrudge participation of other media in a story such as this. Indeed, we welcome it. News is the exclusive domain of no one.
But it’s also just as evident that Edmonson had his PR machine cranked up full tilt in a desperate act of damage control.
He allowed those four State Troopers to make the trip in a State Police vehicle, a Ford Expedition—because, he said, it represented a savings to State Police. That was less than two months before he testified before members of the House Committee on Appropriations on December 6, 2016, that his department was in dire need of 658 additional VEHICLES (Scroll to the 7:40 point in the proceedings).
And he did it all on the state dime.
717,200 state dimes, to be precise, or as close as we can come, given the information provided by LSP was incomplete. That comes to at least $71,720 in taxpayer funds as the LSP assemblage partied even as the state barreled headlong toward yet another budgetary shortfall.
Gov. John Bel Edwards only last week issued a call for a 10-day SPECIAL SESSION of the legislature in an attempt to address a projected $304 million budget hole. That session began Monday at 6:30 p.m. and is scheduled to end by midnight, Feb. 22.
It’s not as though Edmonson needed validation badly enough to yank the honor from one of his subordinates. He has, after all, won other major awards:
- FBI Washington DC, Top 25 Police Administrators Award, 2009
- Sheriff Buford Pusser National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award, 2013
- Human Trafficking, Faces of Hope Award, 2013
- Inner City Entrepreneur (ICE) Institute—Top Cop Award, 2013
- American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators Martha Irwin Award for Lifetime Achievement in Highway Safety, 2014
- New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Captain Katz Lifetime Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Safety, 2015.
Edmonson’s expenses were paid by IACP as the organization’s “honored guest,” according to LSP Maj. Doug Cain, and the travel and lodging expenses of Lafargue, who submitted expense claims only for $366 in meals (though he did turn in a time sheet so he could be paid for attending the event), were apparently picked up by the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) as best we can determine.
Cain said the reason so many personnel made the trip was because there were two other national conferences being held simultaneously: the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies (ASCIA), and the National Safety Council Annual Conference. Edmonson said the conference is an annual event and was included in the LSP budget.
But that didn’t prevent everyone involved from taking time to party hardy. This happy hour group photo was snapped at a San Diego watering hole.
That’s Mike Edmonson right up front, on the left. Third from left is his wife and standing behind him on the third row in the yellow shirt is his brother, State Police Maj. Paul Edmonson. When LouisianaVoice requested a list of those who traveled to San Diego, Paul Edmonson’s name was conveniently omitted from the list. Yet, here he is.
The entire affair more closely resembled a frat party than a professional function, given the side trip to Vegas and the barroom fellowship.
Here is the announcement of Edmonson’s award from the Louisiana State Police Facebook page:
Following a nomination process that included numerous highway and public safety leaders from across the country, Louisiana State Police Superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson was awarded the “J. Stannard Baker Award for Highway Safety.” Colonel Edmonson was honored with the prestigious award during the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Annual Conference which was held from October 15-18, 2016 in San Diego, CA. The IACP Annual Conference has a reputation for providing quality education on pressing law enforcement topics, and at this year’s conference Colonel Edmonson served on a panel of law enforcement leaders from across the nation to discuss topics such as community and training.
At each year’s IACP Annual Conference, the J. Stannard Baker award is presented to recognize law enforcement officers and others who have made outstanding lifetime contributions to highway safety. The award is sponsored by the IACP, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety. For an individual to receive this award, they must be nominated by a law enforcement agency or other traffic safety group or official. They must also be a full time law enforcement officer of a state, county, metropolitan, or municipal agency or be an individual who has made a significant lifetime contribution to highway safety.
The IACP is a professional association for law enforcement worldwide. The IACP actively supports law enforcement through advocacy, outreach, and education. By establishing partnerships across the public safety spectrum, the IACP provides members with resources and support in all aspects of law enforcement policy and operations. The organization helps members to perform their jobs safely and effectively, while also educating the public on the role of law enforcement to help build sustainable community relations.
The glowing news release, however, does not tell the complete story.
Sources close to the story have told LouisianaVoice that New Orleans State Police Maj. Carl Saizan, a 33-year State Police veteran and former Louisiana State Trooper of the Year, was originally nominated for the award but that the nomination had to pass through Edmonson for his stamp of approval. Instead, Saizan’s nomination was mysteriously scratched in favor of….Edmonson. Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson ultimately signed off on Edmonson’s nomination.
Repeated efforts to contact Saizan for a comment were unsuccessful but LouisianaVoice was told he was not a happy camper about Edmonson’s snub. In fact, he may well have voiced his displeasure to Edmonson because he has since been removed as Region One Patrol Commander over Troop A (Baton Rouge), Troop B (New Orleans) and Troop L (Mandeville) and placed over only Troop N, which is exclusively New Orleans.
Edmonson, for his part, denied any knowledge of Saizan’s nomination. “I don’t know anything about anyone else being nominated,” he said in a telephone interview on February 13. “This was a lifetime achievement award based on my 37 years with State Police, mainly my last nine years as Superintendent,” he said.
Maj. Doug Cain, LSP Public Information Officer, told LouisianaVoice that he submitted Edmonson’s name for nomination for the award in “early May” of 2016 but a chain of emails received by LouisianaVoice indicates that saizan’s nomination was in the works as early as April 7. That timeline coincides with the story we received that upon receiving communication that Saizan was being nominated, Edmonson, or someone on his behalf—and certainly with his blessing—decided that he and not Saizan should be the nominee.
Here is Cain’s email:
From: Doug Cain
Sent: Saturday, February 18, 2017 9:28 PM
To: Tom Aswell
Subject: Re: QUESTION
I submitted app early May. Don’t know exact date off the top of my head.
For those who may not recall, remember in June of 2014, State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) tried to sneak an amendment onto a bill literally during the closing minutes of the regular legislative session that would have pumped up Edmonson’s retirement benefits by about $55,000 per year. In case you don’t remember, Edmonson feigned ignorance of that maneuver as well, saying he had no knowledge of any such attempt only to later admit differently that he gave the go-ahead to the attempt in the full knowledge he had chosen to lock in his retirement years earlier and that that decision was supposed to be “irrevocable.”
So someone acts on Edmonson’s behalf to benefit him and he then attempts to distance himself from the action by claiming ignorance.
Does anyone see a pattern here?
LouisianaVoice received corroboration of the Saizan story from six independent sources, all from law enforcement veterans—three active and three of whom are retired.
The 15 “guests,” along with their salaries, who traveled to California to witness the presentation at the three-day International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in San Diego on October 16-18 were:
- Derrell Williams, of Internal Affairs, $132,800 per year;
- Col. Jason Starnes, recently promoted into the newly-created $150,750 per year unclassified position of Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to assist the Undersecretary in the administration of all programs and sections within the Office of Management and Finance. The job description states Chief Administrative Officer shall exercise the duties and responsibilities of the Office of Management and Finance in the absence of the Undersecretary at the direction of the Deputy Secretary. Perk – he receives Free housing at the State Police Headquarters compound (dorm) because he is separated;
- Special Assistant Superintendent Charles Dupuy, Edmonson’s $161,300 per year alter-ego;
- Paul Edmonson, Command Inspector of Special Investigations Section ($136,800). He is Mike Edmonson’s brother and was not included in the list provided by LSP of those making the trip but somehow showed up in a group photo of the contingent in a San Diego bar;
- John W. Alario, son of Senate President John A. Alario, Jr., who pulls down $115,000 per year as Executive Director of the Louisiana Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission;
- Layne Barnum, Command Inspector, Criminal Investigations Division ($132,800);
- Greg Graphia, Operational Development Section consists of the Planning, Public Affairs, and Research Units. The Section functions as staff for Mike Edmonson ($124,100);
- Special Deputy Superintendent over Bureau of Investigations Murphy Paul ($150,750). The Bureau of Investigation is responsible for the investigation of criminal activity, intelligence gathering, and case and technical support in the State of Louisiana.
- Chavez Cammon, Criminal Investigations Unit, New Orleans ($96,900);
- Stephen Lafargue, Secretary-Treasurer of the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) and Bureau of Investigations for Troop D in Lake Charles ($112,300);
- Rodney Hyatt, HQ President of the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) and Lt. of Operational Development Section ($99,800);
- Master Trooper Thurman Miller, President of the Central States Troopers Coalition of Louisiana ($72,600);
- Trooper Alexandr Nezgodinsky, Insurance Fraud Section, Baton Rouge ($50,900);
- Charles McNeal, Investigative Support Section (ISS) LA-SAFE Director ($124,100);
- Brandon Blackburn, an $18,700-per-year unclassified student/intern who is the son of the late Frank Blackburn who served as legal counsel to the Department of Public Safety (DPS). The younger Blackburn, along with his mother, Cindy Kreider Blackburn, and Mike Edmonson’s wife, Suzanne, paid their own expenses, records show.
With Edmonson, Dupuy and Starnes all in San Diego, it’s a good thing no major emergencies like floods, shootings or petro-chemical plant explosions occurred during their absence. But it nevertheless raises questions as to the wisdom of having the top three LSP administrators out of state at the same time. Cain, however, defended the decision, saying, “Command and control is maintained 24/7.”
Yeah, like Bobby Jindal continued to run the state while campaigning for President in Iowa.
The decision to have LSP pay the salaries of such a large group of attendees, as well as travel, lodging, meal and conference registration expenses via state LaCarte credit cards, seems questionable enough. But the justification of having four troopers—Derrell Williams, Rodney Hyatt, Thurman Miller and Alexandr Nezgodinsky—drive a state vehicle from Baton Rouge to San Diego (with an overnight stopover in an expensive Las Vegas casino hotel)—was the most puzzling.
Miller is a member of the Retirement Board and President of the Central States Troopers Coalition of Louisiana, Inc.
Traveling via Interstates 10 and 8 from Baton Rouge, the four would have had to go northwest from Phoenix about 250 miles for an overnight stay in Vegas and from there, 260 miles southwest to San Diego. The straight-line distance between Phoenix and San Diego via I-8, on the other hand, is 350 miles. That means the 510-mile detour taken by the four was about 160 miles longer than necessary.
The four logged seven days for the round trip—four days driving to California and three days on the return trip—plus the four days at the conference itself.
Not only did fuel for the trip cost $610.98, but the four troopers combined to log 249 total hours during the trip (12 hours per day each for three of the men except for the final day, when 11 hours were claimed by the same three) on their time sheets. Each man was paid for 56 regular hours (224 hours total) for the seven days on the road and for 27 hours each (81 total hours) in overtime pay for the trip. Each also was paid for attending the four-day conference, according to time sheets submitted by the troopers.
Maj. Derrell Williams was the only one of the four to claim no overtime for the 11 days that included the trip and the conference. That’s because those with the rank of captain or above cannot earn overtime pay. They can, however, earn straight compensatory time. His salary and expenses still came to $5,730.
Cain was asked for the justification for taking the vehicle and his email response was: “More cost effective to transport 4 individuals and also provide local transportation in San Diego for departmental personnel.”
Edmonson likewise said by the time the cost of flying to San Diego and renting a car was tabulated, it was more economical to have the men drive.
But when their travel time (regular and overtime hours), meals and hotel bills were totaled, the cost of driving the vehicle came to more than $21,000, which does not appear to fit the “cost effective” justification given by Cain or Edmonson. In fact, each of the four could have flown first class for less than that. Edmonson said he would re-calculate the cost of driving the vehicle to California.
On Friday, he heaved the four men under the bus when he announced that they would be required to repay overtime claimed as well as hotel expenses for their overnight stay in Las Vegas. He said Maj. Catherine Flinchum who formerly worked in Internal Affairs, the section Williams now heads up, would conduct an investigation of the trip by the four men.
Interestingly, Williams’s supervisor who signed off on his $2,297.42 expense report was Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy, to whom the vehicle they drove is permanently assigned. That leaves unanswered the question of whether Edmonson’s investigation would extend to his second in command for approving the use of his vehicle and for approving the expenditures.
The bottom line here is that Edmonson knew of and approved taking the vehicle to San Diego and knew of the Las Vegas trip. His signature may not be on the approval for the expenses, but his fingerprints are all over this entire sordid affair. He owns it and no amount of public contrition can change that.
As for others who made the trip by auto, Capt. Gregory Graphia, who also was in San Diego, signed off on time sheets (including the overtime logged) of both Rodney Hyatt and Thurman Miller while Hyatt signed off on Alexandr Nezgodinsky’s time sheet even though he is not Nezgodinsky’s supervisor. A tight little incestuous circle of responsibility, to be sure.
Nezgodinsky, by the way, presents an interesting question in his own right. It seems he has been a State Trooper only since May 2014. So how did a trooper with so little seniority rate a free trip to San Diego? The answer to that may lie in the fact that he was a San Diego city police officer as late as 2012. Perhaps the Louisiana crowd needed a tour guide to the tourist hot spots.
As far as Cain’s somewhat questionable explanation of “local transportation for departmental personnel” goes, Enterprise, which has a contract with the state for discounted rates, still rents cars in San Diego.
One law enforcement official offered a third possible reason for taking the vehicle. “Any way you can check to see if booze for their private parties was transported out there?” he asked.
Cain denied that the Expedition transported anything other than the four troopers.
The total breakdown of costs to the state was almost evenly split between salaries and expenses, records show. Altogether, the salaries for all attendees came to nearly $34,800 and expenses for travel, lodging, registration and meals were $36,233, plus whatever unreported expenses were incurred by Paul Edmonson, according to incomplete records provided by LSP as a result of LouisianaVoice’s public records requests.
Among those costs were hotel bills far exceeding the maximum allowed by state travel guidelines. While several hotel bills were submitted for as much as $299 per night, state guidelines set a maximum limit of $126 per night for several listed cities, including San Diego.
Likewise, the $68-per-day limit for meals ($13 for breakfast, $19 for lunch and $36 for dinner) was routinely exceeded, sometimes just for breakfast. Three examples included meal expense statements of $60 and $72 for breakfast, $68 and $102 for lunch and $96, $120 and $193 for dinner.
Note the redaction of costs on several of the documents provided by LSP and the overtime hours charged.
The trip could prove embarrassing for the governor who recently posted on his office’s web page his PLAN to “stabilize the FY17 budget deficit of $304 million.”
Included in that plan:
- No money in the FY17 budget for inflation or merit pay for state employees (so many years now that we’ve actually lost count but a good guess would be seven or eight years—but State Troopers have fared a little better, getting two recent raises that gave some officers increases as much as 50 percent. Those raises, by the way, did not apply to officers of the Department of Public Safety.);
- No funds for flood related expenses.
Proposed cuts to specific programs included:
- Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement—$251,674. The costs of the San Diego trip represented 28.5 percent of the cuts to this one program.
- Louisiana Emergency Response Network Board—$27,625 (the San Diego trip cost two-and-one-half times this amount).
- Office of State Police, Operational Support Program—$7.38 million;
- Office of State Fire Marshal, Fire Prevention Program—$900,503;
- Office of Juvenile Justice—$4.46 million;
Granted, $71,720 doesn’t represent a lot in the overall scheme of things when talking about a $304 million total deficit. Certainly not in any defense of Edmonson, but what if this is not an anomaly? What if this kind of fiscal irresponsibility is typical throughout state government?
If you have wastes of $71,720 here and $71,720 there, and $71,720 somewhere else, to paraphrase the late U.S. Senator from Illinois, Everett Dirksen, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
And remember, that $71,720 doesn’t include airfare, lodging and meals for Paul Edmonson since LSP failed to include him on the list of individuals who traveled to San Diego. Moreover, LSP initially provided expense records that redacted purchase amounts charged to the state LaCarte cards but later, pursuant to LouisianaVoice’s follow-up request, provided copies that were not redacted. But there were still no itemized receipts provided that showed what those purchases were.
Asked for the total cost of the trip, Cain responded, “I don’t have this figure; you have all the relevant documents.”
Well, given the deletion of Paul Edmonson from the guest list, not quite all.
Given the timing of this, the incredible waste of state resources, and the fact that the state continues to grapple with budgetary shortfalls, perhaps the time has finally come for Gov. Edwards to take somebody to the woodshed for a lesson in discretion.
Because, Governor, we’re all “embarrassed” by Edmonson’s repeated lapses in judgment.