NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - FOX 8 News was the first TV station to ask State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson about questionable State Police travel to a San Diego conference last year. Our investigation helped launch probes by State Police internal affairs, the Division of Administration and the legislative auditor. And now, Col. Edmonson is retiring, leaving some of our questions unanswered.
"It sends a poor message to the public," Edmonson told us earlier this year as we questioned him about the travel expenses. "As a leader of that organization, I'm not going to stand for it."
The expenses were part of a trip by Edmonson and 17 other LSP employees in October 2016 to a four-day police conference in San Diego. The total cost came to about $70,000.
Four of those LSP employees, and one of their spouses, drove a state vehicle about 4,000 miles to a San Diego police conference. Their trip took four days, detouring through the Grand Canyon National Park and the Vegas strip. A few days of the road trip only required a four- or five-hour drive. But three of the troopers put in for a 12- or 14-hour work day.
A few days of the road trip only required a four- or five-hour drive. But three of the troopers put in for a 12- or 14-hour work day.When you calculate salaries, meals, hotels and gas, the cost to State Police and taxpayers was about $19,000.
"I'm embarrassed by it," Edmonson told us. "I don't think it's right at all... I don't know that it's theft, Lee."
Edmonson vowed to "look into the whole thing and let you know." But, in our interview, he was hesitant to even suggest or question if the troopers crossed the legal line.
One reason why could be this: Edmonson signed off on one of the expense reports for the side trip. His signature approves the charges in Grand Canyon National Park and at the Palazzo Hotel in Vegas.
Edmonson told us his assistant stamped his signature. He says he didn't know about the trip.
"On that one, you know, he's either being dishonest or he's being incompetent," said U.S. Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana in a February interview. "I don't mean any disrespect. But if he is supposed to review them and he didn't, he let his secretary just stamp it... That's inexcusable. And on the other hand, if he did review them and okayed it, that's inexcusable, too."
No one in at LSP, including Edmonson, could provide us with a reasonable explanation of why the troopers drove.
When we noted that airfare might have cost as little as $300 per person, he countered, "Depending on when you bought that airfare, Lee... Look, I understand that but let me tell you something, I don't agree with it."
And when we asked who approved the travel expenses, he responded, "Looking into that now. Look, it's ultimately going to rest on me."
Our research shows flying would have been cheaper. In the end, this side trip and conference cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, and ultimately may have cost Mike Edmonson his job.