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Archive for the ‘Waste’ Category

Since our publication of those Crimson Tide pictures on a Terror-Bonne sheriff’s patrol vehicle, we have gotten all manner of pushback from supporters—and one apparent relative—of Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, one even suggesting we had libeled the good sheriff (we have not, by any definition of the term “libel”).

If those good people think we have been a little tough on Sheriff Larpenter, we have a few more surprises that are certain to get their blood boiling.

This is the sheriff, you recall, who had a search warrant executed against a blogger who had the temerity to criticize the man who holds what is arguably the most powerful elected office in the parish. The blogger’s home was raided in the early morning hours and his computers seized only to be sheepishly returned after a federal judge read the sheriff the riot act about a person’s First Amendment rights.

One who commented on our story said, “You guys do realize those letters are photo-shopped into that picture, right?”

Um, no.

Another well-meaning writer who works in graphic arts assured us she had no dog in the hunt but after examining the photos, she, too, was of the opinion they were photo-shopped.

Nope. Afraid not. It turns out they are produced specifically for Alabama fans. Subsequent photos put up by LouisianaVoice revealed that the tires had been turned around since our store so as to not be visible to the public.

But then the dealer who sold the tires to Larpenter’s department weighed in, saying that the tires cost no more than any other tire because they were on state contract and actually cost less than what they cost the dealer.

Okay, we concede that point but if the good sheriff had nothing to hide, why was he so quick in flipping them so that the lettering faced the undercarriage of the vehicle? Perhaps he did so to escape the wrath of LSU fans who can be every bit as rabid as ‘Bama faithful.

One writer, who identified himself as Joseph Larpenter, wrote, “If that’s all you people are bitching about is tires, then you are stupid. I know the reason behind the tires and it’s a great idea. I’m not saying this because of who I am. I’m not stupid to this approach. If you don’t get it, then you are stupid as well.”

He later emailed us to say, “Because of a set of tires really.” The lack of punctuation marks in the appropriate places sort of diluted his message, but we get it. He doesn’t like us and he thinks we’re picking on the sheriff as did the person who commented that we were treading dangerously close to libel. Our only response to that is that he’s obviously not an attorney.

Well, today we received a little tip about deputy overtime pay and, considering the financial plight of the sheriff’s department where employee benefits have been cut back to help the sheriff overcome a huge budgetary deficit, the numbers ain’t pretty.

Take Maj. Tommy Odom, for example.

Maj. Odom apparently is a workhorse of unlimited energy and a capacity for long hours.

Copies of time sheets from nine randomly selected two-week pay periods indicate Odom’s income may well surpass that Larpenter himself working as he does an average of 21 hours per week in overtime.

The man is dedicated, working Saturdays and Sundays and hardly, it seems, even taking time to go home for lunch, taking as he does only half-hour lunch breaks.

Why, in a single two-week pay period, he logged 88.5 hours over and above his regular 80 hours, good for an extra $5,100 in overtime in addition to his regular pay of $4,080. From September 15, 2014 through September 28, he worked 13 consecutive days, logging as many as 15 hour on several of those days, according to the time sheets obtained by LouisianaVoiceCLICK HER FOR TIME SHEETS

Using the nine pay periods as a base, it showed he worked an average of 21 hours per week overtime. At his base rate of $51 per hour, his regular salary is about $2,040, or around $106,000 per year. At the legal time and one-half overtime rate, he made $76.50 per hour for his overtime work, which, at an average of 21 hours per week, would be about $83,500 in addition to his regular salary.

These figures aren’t photo-shopped. They’re real. And it leads one to wonder just what it was that Odom did during all those overtime hours—or why he was allowed such latitude.

Odom, our source said, is the only one of his rank who is allowed to work overtime. In fact, our source said, “No one else at Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office at the rank of captain or above is allowed to work overtime.” Only Odom, who also is charge of purchasing. When he previously worked patrol, our source says, “he used to dictate his reports to his wife and she would write his reports for him.”

So, while we had a little fun with our tire story, the manner in which Larpenter runs his office is serious business and remains a sticking point with many residents of Terrebonne Parish.

So, in response to Mr. Joseph Larpenter, who obviously has skin (or at least kindred blood) in the game: No, bitching about tires is not all we have to bitch about is tires—not by a long shot. And LouisianaVoice will keep poking and probing and prodding for answers and we will report our findings.

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I’ve got no quarrel with anyone who wants to display his loyalty to a particular college or professional sports team. As a Louisiana Tech graduate, I naturally pull for the Bulldogs and because I live in Denham Sprints, right next door to Baton Rouge, I’m an LSU baseball fan.

And I’ve been a Boston Red Sox fan all my life, dating back to the days of the greatest hitter of ‘em all, Ted Williams who also, incidentally, was very active in helping raise money for the Jimmy Fund, a benefit program for children suffering from cancer. He did so quietly and privately, regularly visiting sick children. There was one ground rule, however: no media were to know when he was there. On one occasion a sick child was holding Ted’s finger in his hand. As Ted tried to leave, the child wouldn’t let go. Williams had a nurse bring a chair to the child’s bedside and he sat there all night holding his hand.

I have LSU, Tech and Red Sox caps and T-shirts but no bumper or window stickers but see nothing wrong with those who openly support Mississippi State, Florida or even Alabama on LSU turf—even if that person happens to Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.

You remember Larpenter. He’s the one who got a judge to sign a search warrant so he could raid the home of a blogger whose only sin was being critical of Larpenter. You know, free speech and all that.

A federal JUDGE threw that search warrant in the trash can and in doing so, gave a Larpenter a verbal lashing and a refresher course on the First Amendment while clearing the way for a civil rights lawsuit against the high sheriff.

Well, now we learn that Larpenter, even as he cut back on his department’s matching deferred compensation for his employees and cut a boat load of other benefits as well in an effort to overcome his department’s $3 million deficit, saw nothing wrong with blowing a tidy sum on special tires and rims for one of the Sheriff’s Department’s vehicles.

In what was obviously a hilarious joke on the local LSU fans, Larpenter’s tires have nice white raised lettering reading “University of Alabama Crimson Tide.”

And while the “in your face” rolling proclamation might rankle resident Tiger fans, it should really raise the hackles of local taxpayers who’re paying for this unusual expenditure.

This little gesture must certainly fall under the “What the hell were you thinking” classification of really stupid things to do, Sheriff. It would have been far more economical to just get a Tide rear window sticker—and it’d be a lot less offensive to those who write checks for their property taxes each December.

But then again, this is the type mentality we get from elected officials who feel sufficiently immune to voter outrage and who seem to think of their office as just that—their office, instead of belonging to the people who have bestowed upon them the privilege of occupying the office temporarily.

(Lord, I hope he doesn’t get a search warrant to come barging through my front door at 6 a.m. to seize my laptop the way he loves to do to bloggers who criticize him. I just painted the door and put in new flooring following last year’s flood and don’t need the aggravation.)

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Word from inside the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM) is that state auditors have come calling and are taking a close look at agency expenditures.

Without being privy to any specific findings by the Legislative Auditor’s Office, it’s a pretty safe bet that the bean counters are going to find that the LOSFM likes to worm its way around the rules by making multiple purchases in amounts that fly—barely—under the radar, as it were, of minimum amounts for which quotes are required.

Other expenditures that might be questioned by auditors include meals at Mike Anderson’s Restaurant, purchases from a grocery store, a seafood market, a deli, a cookware outlet, association memberships and convention fees,

The  LOUISIANA PROCUREMENT CODE (LPC: that would be R.S. 39:1551-1755 for whoever is wearing military medals at LOSFM these days] does not require competitive bidding for purchases that are $5,000 or less. Purchases that are greater than $5,000, and up to $15,000, require quotes from at least three vendors by telephone, fax or other means. (emphasis ours.)

LouisianaVoice recently spent the better part of a week poring over and scanning stack upon stack of purchasing records by the fire marshal’s office. Several years’ worth of receipts, no less.

If LOSFM is an indication, the so-called state budgetary crisis is largely a myth and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, erstwhile State Treasurer, was correct when he said the state didn’t have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem. (Kennedy, alas, not knowing when to call it a day, would go on to talk about drinking weed killer and quoting a mysterious Louisiana adage known only to him about how we should love one another but should also carry a handgun).

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning apparently makes a lot of photocopies and prints volumes of documents, judging from the toner purchases made by his office. But those notwithstanding, it became fairly obvious from our findings that Browning, his second in command, Brant Thompson, and other top honchos like to split their purchases so that they fall just under that magical mystical $5,000 amount.

We even stumbled across one purchase of $4,999.99 on September 6, 2016, from Broad Base of Harvey for the purchase of 10 washers and 10 dryers for the agency’s laundry trailer. Apparently, they learned well from the Jindal administration which would issue state contracts for $49,999 so as to avoid the laborious approval of the old Office of Contractual Review, a requirement that kicked in at $50,000 and above.

LOSFM also liked a well-dressed agent. In 2015, it spent $33,490 with Guidry Uniforms of Lafayette, with at least three of those purchases being in increments of $5,000 and another for $5,000.01 (oops).

On April 7, 2015, the fire marshal’s office spent $2,558.59 with Guidry’s and immediate recorded another purchase that same day for $685.83. Six days later, on April 13, another $5,000 was spent with Guidry’s, all apparently without benefit of the required three quotes as there were no such quotes provided along with the receipts.

In 2014, records were found for expenditures with Guidry’s of $4,531.53 (September 15) and $5,000 (November 14). Another $17,600 was spent at Guidry’s in 2016, including individual purchases of $1,069 on March 31 and payments on outstanding invoices of $4,932.67 in April 12 and $2,517.61 in April 20.

“Agencies should maintain documentation of each quote received,” the state law says. “Procurement amounts may not be artificially divided in order to circumvent the LPC.” (emphasis ours) Quotes may be taken by telephone, facsimile or other means. The quotes must, however, be in writing if the price exceeds $5,000. Awards shall be made to the lowest responsive quotation.

Other apparent split purchases made without obtaining the required three quotations:

  • Tri-Parish Communications of Baton Rouge: March 10, 2015 ($1,870.75), March 16 ($1,876 and $382.80), March 18 ($107.80 and $148.30), March 19 ($232.85) and March 24 ($274.85 and $359.85) for a total of $5,253.20.
  • Louisiana Office Solutions of Baton Rouge: January 14, 2016 ($269.32), January 21 ($2,668), and January 22 ($2,828) for a total of $5,765.32.
  • Preferred Data Voice Networks of Baton Rouge: April 5, 2016 ($1,873.60), April 12 ($3,248.80), April 19 ($4,970.80) for a total of $10,093.20 with all three purchases precisely one week apart (clever).
  • Quality Lapel Pins of Littleton, Colorado (we’ll have more on them later): February 21, 2016 ($3,569), March 9 ($3,569—yep, identical amounts in two separate purchases barely two weeks apart), and March 30 ($1,040) for a total of $8,178 over a span of five weeks.
  • Quality Lapel Pins: June 27 ($4,862), July 13 ($921.02), and July 18 ($1,828.20) for a total of $7,611.22 purchased over a period of three weeks.
  • Goodyear Commercial Tire of Baton Rouge: March 26, 2015 ($3,484.17) and March 30 ($2,677.43), a total of $6,161.60.
  • Ferrara Fire Apparatus of Holden: December 11, 2014 ($4,985), December 12 ($2,747.52), and December 22 ($2,190.14), a total of $9,922.66.
  • Ferrara Fire Apparatus: April 2, 2015 ($3,784.38) and April 8 ($1,712.16), a total of $5,496.54.
  • Ferrara Fire Apparatus: March 18, 2016 ($4,828), April 14 ($3,196 and $1,164), and April 26 ($4,342), a total of $8,702 (grand total of split purchases: $24,121.20). Additionally, LOSFM had individual purchases from Ferrara of another $10,321 in the years 2014-2016, including one purchase of $4,985, just $15 below the amount requiring quotations.
  • Teeco Safety of Shreveport: November 6, 2014 ($4,731.50) and November 14 ($4,994.50), a total of $9,726.
  • Teeco Safety: December 5, 2014 ($3,979.30) and December 11 ($3,248.32), a total of $7,227.62.
  • Teeco Safety: February 13, 2015 ($3,525, $564.30, and $711.76) and February 19 ($546), a total of $5,347.06.
  • Teeco Safety: November 6, 2015 ($2,763), November 12 ($4,763.14), and November 16 ($1,413.96), a total of $8,940.10.
  • Teeco Safety: December 18, 2015 ($3,606.79 and $179.76) and December 22 ($2,601.31), a total of $6,387.86.
  • Teeco Safety: September 9, 2016 ($4,587.96), September 14 ($3,433.92), and September 30 ($1,919.76), a total of $9,941.64. LOSFM also made individual purchases of $4,941.98 on October 30, 2014, and $4,777.80 on April 8, 2015, and had three purchases totaling $4,804 in December 2016.

Documents provided by LOSFM indicated that an occasional quotation was obtained from Teeco prior to purchases, but there were no quotes from other vendors.

Besides the four purchases of $5,000 each from Guidry’s and the $4,999.99 from Broad Base, the fire marshal’s office also chalked up at least a dozen one-time purchases that fell just below the $5,000 amount requiring quotations. Those purchases ranged from $4,000 to $4,900, $4,990 and $4,999—all without benefit of quotations.

That $4,900 expenditure was for a deposit to LR3 Consulting for creation of the “Louisiana Firefighter Proud” website. The State of Louisiana has IT personnel to perform such tasks.

Over a relative short span, from May 9 to September 22, 2016, LOSFM spent $9,600 at Best Buy on such items as juice boxes, computer and video cable, and other computer-related equipment.

Another $8,754 was spent on association memberships and sponsorship fees for conventions, records show. Those included:

  • $1,300 for 2015 memberships in the Merchant International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI);
  • $1,875 for 2016 memberships in the Louisiana IAAI;
  • $1,175 for 2017 IAAI membership;
  • $1,404 for 2015 membership in the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA);
  • $700 for sponsorship of the Louisiana Municipal Association (LMA) 2015 convention;
  • $750 for sponsorship of the LMA 2016 convention;
  • $800 for sponsorship of the LMA 2017 convention;
  • $750 for sponsorship of the Louisiana Police Jury Association (LPJA) 2017 convention;

On December 3, 2015, LOSFM employees were treated to a Christmas meal at Mike Anderson’s Seafood Restaurant at a cost of $2,195. Another $1,014 was spent at LeBlanc’s Food Stores and $126.62 was dropped at Tony’s Seafood Market & Deli in January 2016, and $479.85 was spent at Jason’s Deli in April 2016.

On January 21, 2015, $895 was spent at Krazy Kajun Cookware for the purchase of a 30-gallon roll-around combo set, including the pot and accompanying paddles—apparently to compliment the purchase later that year (May 18) of a special service trailer for “emergency field food service” to support USAR events/emergencies. (A quick Google search of USAR came up with U.S. Army Reserve and Urban Search and Rescue.)

But that pales in comparison to more than $62,000 spent by the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s Office between May 2014 and September 2016 on such things as badges, ribbons, plaques, coins, medallions, stadium cups, lapel pins, and decals—all without benefit of obtaining quotations. A couple of those nudged right up against that $5,000 limit:

  • $5,000 with Quality Lapels and Pins in February 2016, $7,138 in two purchases of identical $3,569 on February 21, 2016 and again 16 days later, on March 9, and $4,862 on June 27;
  • $4,617 from Rebel Graphics of Baton Rouge in June 2016, and
  • $4,997 with Action Flags of Baton Rouge (no invoice date).

There was no indication if any of those purchases were for military medals to be worn by Browning.

 

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To get past those cute but misleading TV ads, and arrive at a better understanding of just how the insurance industry really works, you need to understand first, that insurance companies are in the business to make money for their stockholders.

That’s it. There is no second. The policyholder is never taken into consideration when there is a claim. The mindset for the insurance company, no matter what name or logo is on its letterhead, is driven by one overriding question: How can we get out of this obligation with the least cost to shareholders?

It matters not one whit whether it is life, property & casualty, auto, or health insurance. The company’s very purpose for existing is not to see that policyholders are made whole but how the payout on claims may be minimized so as to inflict the least monetary damage to the company’s bottom line.

Do you think that life insurance claim that was slow paying off was simply to investigate whether or not the beneficiary had a part in the insured’s death? While that may be a part of it, particularly in cases of suspicious circumstances (such as falling off a cliff during a hike in Bryce Canyon), there may well be other factors involved, such as delaying payment as long as possible in order to accrue as much return on the investment of premiums as possible.

You didn’t really think the companies just leave that money lying around waiting for the insured to die, did you? No, it’s invested heavily in all sorts of things in order to earn money for the company.  https://www.paxforpeace.nl/stay-informed/news/insurers-invest-nearly-7-billion-in-controversial-arms-trade

And it’s your money they do it with.

Did you ever wonder why your auto insurance company would suggest a particular body shop for repairs to your car after an accident? Why not the body shop of the dealer from whom the car was purchased? It could be—and often is—because the recommended body shop uses what is called “after-market” parts for repairs. That means the parts are generally inferior to those of the dealership’s original parts and can diminish the resale value of your vehicle. Did you ever notice that after repairs at some of those shops, the quarter panel replacement no longer fits flush with the original undamaged part of your car? Or you have air leaks (or worse, water leaks) around the replacement door that weren’t there before? That would be the likely result of after-market parts. http://www.repairerdrivennews.com/2015/02/12/anderson-cooper-360-piece-attacks-insurers-for-steering-parts-video/

You’re not happy, but your insurance company is ecstatic. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/05/08/insurers-auto-repair-tactics-only-part-of-problem-jindal-old-firm-mckinsey-co-coached-katrina-on-claims-delays-denials/

And who hasn’t experienced battles with health insurance companies that refused to cover a certain type of treatment because it’s considered “experimental.” Now, because of changes in the Office of Group Benefits instituted by the Jindal administration, state retirees who move out of state may find themselves no longer covered because their physicians are “out of network,” meaning they are non-participants in OGB’s coverage plan. Sorry, we don’t have any doctors in Arkansas or Mississippi who are part of the plan. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/25/louisianavoice-learns-of-jindal-plan-to-force-state-retirees-out-of-ogb-by-raising-members-premiums-cutting-benefits/

But by far, the most subtle method of claim manipulation is in the property & casualty field, namely your homeowners and flood insurance programs.

As we wrote in April, insurers will prepare repair estimates at two costs, depending on whether the damage to a home was caused by wind or flood. Repair estimates generally run much less on wind damage claims than for floods—even though the same material is used on each claim.

That is because the companies themselves are on the hook for any wind damage while flood damage, if covered at all, is the responsibility of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), claims for which are paid by the federal government, i.e. taxpayers.

But that’s not to say Allstate is averse to handling flood claims. Quite the contrary. Allstate, in fact, has had an arrangement with NFIP under which NFIP Allstate is paid for handling flood claims.

Accordingly, if Allstate found itself on the hook for wind damages, it would use a lower formula for paying claimants but if it determined the damages were caused by flooding, a second, more expensive separate formula would be employed.

In one example we found, damage was determined to be from wind and Allstate paid 83 cents per square foot for removal and replacement of drywall (sheetrock). In another claim from the same storm and in the same part of the state, it was determined to be flood damage and that same dry wall removal and replacement—paid for by American taxpayers—was $1.53 per square foot, a difference of 70 cents per square foot. Painting that drywall cost Allstate 35 cents per square foot for the wind-damage claim but cost NFIP (taxpayers) 58 cents per square foot for the flood damage claim.

That was not an anomaly. In comparing two 2011 claims from Tropical Storm Lee in southwest Louisiana, LouisianaVoice found that damage to one home was determined to be from wind. The cost of removing and replacing drywall (sheetrock) was estimated at $1.75 per square foot and painting of the drywall was estimated at 55 cents per square foot. That, of course was the cost to the insurance company, in this case, Colonial.

A second claim only a few miles away, also the result of Lee, was also for a home covered by Colonial. In this case, the damaged was determined to be the result of flooding, so the claim now belonged to NFIP. The estimate to remove and repair drywall for this home was $2.47 per square foot and the cost of painting that same drywall was estimated at 87 cents per square foot.

Assuming an area of 1000 square feet, you’re looking at a cost differential of $720 for removal and replacement of the drywall and a difference of $320 for painting, or an overall cost increase of $1,040 for repairs to a flood-damaged home compared to the wind-damaged structure.

By the time, other costs are factored in—costs for such things as replacing and painting molding, baseboards, doors and door frames, replacing electrical outlets and door hardware, removing and replacing windows and window trim, painting window frames, replacement of carpeting and/or wood flooring, the difference between a wind and a flood claim can be enormous.

And that doesn’t even include one other factor that goes into all estimates—overhead and profit (O&P) for the contractor. There has to be a profit for the contractor. That’s understandable; no one would expect him to repair your house for nothing.

But like the repairs themselves, the percentage of overhead and profit has a wide variance, depending on whether or not the damage is determined to be from wind or flooding.

LouisianaVoice has obtained three boxes of claims documents that not only reflect damning evidence of NFIP gouging on the costs of specific repairs, but in the allowance for contractor O&P, as well.

Built-in allowances for O&P for wind claims paid by the individual companies range around 20-29 percent. But for flood claims, paid by the American taxpayer through the NFIP, that O&P can range from 48 to 51 percent, according to documents in our possession.

For example, going back to 2005, O&P for one wind-damage claim was estimated at 28 percent for a Mississippi wind claim from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. But flood damage from the same hurricane resulted in contractor O&P of 51 percent. Both estimates were done by Allstate.

Wind damage from Hurricane Ida in Texas in 2009 resulted in a claim in which contractor O&P was 29 percent, according to Allstate damage estimates. But when damage from that same storm was determined to be from flooding, the contractor O&P shot up quickly, to 49 percent, Allstate documents show.

But Allstate and Colonial were not the only practitioners of such claim manipulation—not by a long shot. Here’s a story about how the game was played in the same manner by STATE FARM.

Project these tactics over a large, densely-populated area like that destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and at least one estimate of the increased cost from “padding” both specific damages and contractor overhead and profit has taxpayers in the two states being ripped off to the tune of approximately $10 billion.

And while strict insurance fraud laws are on the books that could result in a prison sentence if you so much as included a non-existent flat screen television on your claim, there apparently is no one minding the store to guard against raping the taxpayer-funded NFIP.

And as long as the insurance companies continue to pour money into the campaign coffers of members of Congress, state legislators and regulators, you can be sure there will never be.

Perfect.

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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.

charles-dupuy

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.

san-diego-happy-hour

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.

redacted-starnes-invoice

redacted-edmonson-invoice

nezgodinsky-original-expenses

nezgodinsky-amended-expenses

hotel-bill

hyatt-expenses

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.

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