- Associated Press - Thursday, December 14, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana State Police leader Col. Kevin Reeves says he’s already changed spending policies in anticipation of a scathing audit, publicly released Thursday, that found his predecessor lived a lavish lifestyle financed by misused state tax dollars.

The legislative auditor’s investigative review accuses retired Col. Mike Edmonson of potentially illegal misspending and inappropriate behavior when he was state police superintendent.

In a response, Reeves said, he’s tweaked travel policies, reeducated supervisors on the proper use of state police assets and employees, and reviewed the issuance of credit cards. The state police also said it is working with the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI in reviewing Edmonson’s activities.

“For many of the recommendations listed in the report, State Police has already implemented appropriate changes,” Reeves wrote. “We have been able to determine that in many instances, we have adequate policies in place, and the expectation of this administration is compliance to those policies by our employees regardless of rank.”

The lengthy audit - a draft of which was obtained by The Advocate two weeks ago - suggests Edmonson used the Louisiana State Police troopers and equipment for personal gain.

Edmonson wrote a letter, included with the report, criticizing the leak of a confidential draft before he could respond to the claims, describing that as “inherent unfairness” and suggesting that the auditor’s office should be investigating “this improper conduct.”

The ex-state police leader wrote that he will respond to the audit by Jan. 15, and is “feeling confident the residents of this state will not prematurely reach conclusions until all of the facts are presented.”

Among the many claims, auditors say Edmonson improperly moved his family to a home on the state police compound without paying rent, utilities or taxes on the benefit, and put family and friends in New Orleans hotel rooms planned for troopers assisting with Mardi Gras safety duties. The report says Edmonson also used troopers and state vehicles to run personal errands for him and his family, and to perform maintenance on family members’ vehicles.

Edmonson had been the state police’s longest-serving superintendent, holding the job for nine years before retiring in March amid questions about lax spending practices. He was appointed superintendent by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2008. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, kept him in the position.

“The Legislative Auditor’s report uncovered some troubling findings and serious problems with past abuses of power from its previous leader,” Edwards said in a statement.

The governor praised state police employees as “honorable public servants who do a tremendous job” and said with Reeves’ leadership “the department has already taken significant steps to restore public trust and accountability.”

Republican U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, meanwhile, called on Louisiana’s revenue department to make Edmonson pay back-taxes on the free housing, utilities, cable television, electricity and other “fringe benefits” he received.

Edmonson left after troopers billed thousands of dollars to taxpayers for overtime and expenses on a 2016 trip to a law enforcement conference in San Diego, during which they took sightseeing trips to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

Edmonson said he hadn’t approved the side trips, but a state police review found he knew about the excursions, was in contact with the troopers throughout the trip and deleted text messages during the investigation.

Reeves demoted two high-ranking troopers after the internal investigation. The audit by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office, which backed up much of the state police’s review, found that the agency paid nearly $13,000 more than necessary for the San Diego trip.

Jindal’s former chief of staff Timmy Teepell defended Edmonson’s living arrangements in a letter released this week to The Advocate, saying the move was aimed at making the state police leader available around the clock to quickly respond to emergencies.

“In my experience, through over a dozen federally declared disasters, four hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, shootings, an oil spill and hostage situations, Mike Edmonson was available, no matter the hour, the day, the time, to courteously and loyally serve the people of Louisiana,” Teepell wrote.


Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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