- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 20, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Despite auditors’ criticism it was improper and possibly illegal, Gov. John Bel Edwards defended the living arrangements of retired Louisiana State Police leader Mike Edmonson, saying he asked Edmonson to live in a state-owned home as agency superintendent.

Edmonson moved into the house at state police headquarters in 2008, after he was named superintendent by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal. Edwards kept Edmonson in the job when he took office in 2016 and said he asked the state police leader to remain in the house, because the governor thought it was the best way for Edmonson to quickly respond to emergencies.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office suggested living in the house without paying rent, utilities or taxes could have violated state law.

“I’m less than convinced that the legislative auditor got it right relative to the use of the residence by Col. Edmonson,” Edwards said Wednesday at a wide-ranging news conference.

Edwards didn’t defend Edmonson, however, against other charges raised by auditors that Edmonson misused tax dollars to finance a lavish personal lifestyle. The governor called those allegations “very troubling.”

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 and his leadership style. Edwards tapped Col. Kevin Reeves to fill the position.

“I have 100 percent confidence in Col. Reeves and in his leadership abilities, in the changes that he’s already made in the organization. I think that morale among state troopers has increased, and I believe the professionalism of that agency will be fully restored,” the governor said.

Auditors suggested Edmonson used the Louisiana State Police troopers and equipment for personal gain. They say he put family and friends in New Orleans hotel rooms planned for troopers assisting with Mardi Gras safety, used troopers to run personal errands for him and his family and asked state police staff to perform maintenance on family members’ vehicles.

Edmonson left the agency after criticism erupted about troopers billing 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. The legislative audit backed up the state police review.

In a written letter to Purpera’s office, the ex-state police leader said he will respond to the audit by Jan. 15. Meanwhile, the state police said it is working with the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI in reviewing Edmonson’s activities.


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

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