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Troopers' cross-country trek, on overtime, prompts investigation

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Louisiana State Police Louisiana State Police

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Thousands of dollars in overtime was paid to Louisiana State Police officials to drive across the country and stay at a Las Vegas resort and casino and the Grand Canyon on their way to a law enforcement conference in California, records show.
    
The entourage went hundreds of miles out of their way at times for reasons that are under investigation, The Advocate reported.
    
Details of the October trip to the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in San Diego came to light after the newspaper obtained travel records for the trip.
    
Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent, said he had not authorized the troopers to charge overtime - three of the four did - or to take such an indirect route to the conference, the newspaper reported. He said on Saturday that he has ordered an internal review of the road trip, an inquiry that he said could result in disciplinary measures and changes to State Police travel policy.
    
"It's embarrassing to me to say that I paid them to drive there, so I'm making them pay that back," Edmonson said, referring to dozens of hours of overtime billed to taxpayers.
    
"These are all people who have respected positions in State Police," he said. "I certainly trust them, but I'm disappointed in them claiming overtime hours and I'm disappointed in the side trip to Vegas."
    
The entourage driving a State Police SUV from Baton Rouge to San Diego was made up of Lt. Rodney Hyatt, Senior Trooper Thurman Miller, Trooper Alexandr Nezgodinsky and Maj. Derrell Williams, the head of the Internal Affairs Division.
    
Hyatt charged for 63 hours of overtime that he attributed in accounting records to an "IACP special detail." Nezgodinsky billed 42 hours of overtime for the week, while Miller charged 54 hours. Williams took just 16 hours of comp time for the weekend days he spent at the conference.
    
The troopers left Baton Rouge on Oct. 10, four days before the start of the conference, driving 12 hours a day. By the second evening, they had reached the Grand Canyon, where they checked into a Holiday Inn Express that charged more than $250 a night per room.
    
Rather than driving about 330 miles from there to San Diego, they took a significant detour to Las Vegas and, the following night, checked into two suites at the Palazzo resort and casino in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas stay cost more than $500 in taxpayer dollars, counting resort fees, according to State Police records.
    
The troopers took a far more direct route back to Baton Rouge after the conference and also chose cheaper accommodations, records show. One night, they stopped at a Quality Inn in Deming, New Mexico, and rented two rooms at $62 apiece. The following night, however, they were back to pricier lodging, staying at a Hyatt Regency in San Antonio for more than $200 a night.
    
Their expenses were on top of tens of thousands of dollars the State Police spent otherwise to send at least 15 people to the four-day conference.
    
The decision to send such a large entourage drew sharp criticism from one watchdog organization, which last week accused the agency of squandering money at a time when state lawmakers are struggling to fix a dire financial crisis.

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