Stephanie Grace: No longer untouchable, how did Mike Edmonson get away with his behavior for so long?

Sunday, 03 December 2017, 06:54:28 AM. For years, former Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson seemed to have a magic touch.

For years, former Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson seemed to have a magic touch.

He earned the loyalty of one boss, former Gov. Bobby Jindal. And he managed to quickly switch teams and keep his job when John Bel Edwards, a cop's politician with generational family ties to law enforcement as well as a harsh Jindal critic, took over. 

The Louisiana Legislature treated him just fine, as well.

Edmonson nearly landed a six-figure sum in enhanced retirement benefits in 2014, when lawmakers adopted a last-minute, way-under-radar amendment to an unrelated bill that would have tweaked the pension system for just two people, Edmonson being one of them. It was only after controversy erupted that the legislation was deemed improper, and Edmonson himself decried the process and swore off the extra benefits.

The following year, as the state was grappling with an epic budget shortfall, he landed a 32 percent, $43,085 raise after having testified before the Legislature that the plan he proposed wouldn't "affect me or the upper echelon." But Jindal decided it should apply to top staffers as well, and after Edwards was sworn in, his administration signed off on it.

How times have changed.

These recovered text messages catch Mike Edmonson chatting with Louisiana troopers during Las Vegas 'side trip'

Edmonson's fall from grace began earlier this year, following reports that four state troopers had taken an expensive side trip to Las Vegas and other southwest destinations, all on the taxpayer dime, while driving to a conference in San Diego. Edmonson had authorized the road trip, arguing that his entourage might need a vehicle while in California, but said he had not approved the stops or the overtime the troopers claimed. He professed his disappointment with colleagues that he'd trusted, but his reputation still took a big hit, and he retired from his post.

Now, it seems, he's got a lot farther to fall.

A shocking new report, issued by the very agency he once led and obtained by The Advocate's Jim Mustian, includes evidence that Edmonson did indeed know what the troopers were up to, was in touch with them as they made their way cross country, and even sent encouraging messages, including one noting that the group seemed to be having fun.

And it gets worse. The report offers evidence that Edmonson tried to cover up his complicity by deleting texts from one of the trooper's cell phones, just after he'd apparently learned that internal investigators had "several concerns" about the trip.

Bombshell report says retired LSP head deleted texts, misled public after Vegas 'side trip'

According to Rodney Hyatt, who was demoted from lieutenant to sergeant for submitting falsified time sheets and failing to follow department policies, Edmonson changed the settings on Hyatt's cell phone to automatically delete texts older than 30 days. By the time investigators checked his phone, the telltale messages were gone. But logs and texts on Hyatt's wife's phone, including what are clearly vacation photos from the Grand Canyon and other stops, showed that Edmonson warmly chatted with the group during the trip.

This is serious stuff. A lay person might claim that he didn't know he was obligated to preserve these records, but the state's former top cop can't claim ignorance.

And that's not even close to the worst of it.

A separate draft report from the state Legislative Auditor, which Mustian also obtained, paints a damning picture of a well-compensated public official who couldn't get enough. 

The audit says Edmonson had subordinates drive his wife around the state, used state resources to service his son's car and had trusties walk the family's dog at the Department of Public Safety compound where the Edmonsons lived rent-free. He also ordered inmates to deliver food to the house, and let friends stay in hotel rooms paid for by the city of New Orleans that were designated for state troopers who provided extra protection during Mardi Gras. He even double dipped on dry-cleaning for his uniforms, claiming a stipend to pay the bills while sending them through the Governor's Mansion dry-cleaning service.

How does a guy get away with such behavior for so long?

In hindsight, maybe the secret to Edmonson's success was that he believed he was untouchable and managed to make the people around him believe it, too.

Once a spell like that breaks, all bets are off.

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