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Who’s watching the watchdog? Records show IG billed taxpayers for questionable trips

 

The man who's supposed to be the chief watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security was himself billing the government for a string of "site visits" to sunny locales including Puerto Rico and south Florida -- where he allegedly was pursuing his Ph.D. 

The activity was detailed in a trove of documents obtained and published by conservative group Cause of Action. They appear to lend weight to at least some of the myriad allegations made last month against homeland security Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards. 

Among other claims backed up by the documents are that Edwards employed his wife -- some say in violation of nepotism rules -- and that she won approval to telework. 

"At least the timeline and the narrative are being confirmed," Cause of Action spokeswoman Mary Beth Hutchins told FoxNews.com, adding there will have to be more digging. "There are some legitimate questions here." 

Edwards' office, though, continued to battle and deny the allegations. 

Asked about the latest documents and a recent request by U.S. senators for information, the office said in a statement: "The OIG is furnishing official documents and Mr. Edwards is furnishing personal documents to the subcommittee which show these allegations to be baseless."

In late June, Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., sent a bombshell letter to Edwards outlining what "numerous whistleblowers" had told them about alleged "abuse" by him. 

They included claims that he employed his wife, obtained improper benefits for her and retaliated against staffers who flagged that situation; watered down his office's report on the Secret Service prostitution scandal in Colombia; and "abused" agency resources while pursuing his Ph.D. at Nova Southeastern University. According to the letter, this included Edwards traveling there under the "guise" of "site visits." 

Indeed, the travel records obtained by Cause of Action -- after the group filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the government -- show several visits to Fort Lauderdale, where the main campus for the university is housed. Each trip cost taxpayers hundreds of dollars. 

One receipt from a March 2012 trip showed he stayed at the local Marriott, with "Nova Se University" listed by the rate. 

According to Cause of Action, Edwards was staying in a hotel closer to the school than to the local OIG office. 

The records also show two excursions to San Juan, Puerto Rico. During one of those trips, in July 2012, Edwards submitted a $736.26 receipt for The Ritz-Carlton in San Juan. Apparently, there is a DHS office on the island, but the specific purpose of the visits was not listed. 

The Office of Inspector General has not yet responded to questions from FoxNews.com about what Edwards might have been doing on those and other trips. 

His office has previously claimed that the allegations against him are "without merit," and that similar claims have already been dismissed. 

Johnson and McCaskill, in their June letter, cited allegations that not only was Edwards using official funds to travel for his Ph.D. classes, but he was also using OIG staff to "work on school assignments and write" his dissertation. The letter further alleged that he misused bonuses to "reward" workers who helped him with that work. 

The letter also claimed he violated nepotism laws by employing his wife, Madhuri Edwards, as an auditor in the agency. Documents obtained by Cause of Action include the "telework agreement" where Madhuri Edwards is listed as a supervisory program analyst in the office of audits. 

The latest documents were first reported by The New York Post.

FoxNews.com's Judson Berger contributed to this report.