Lee Zurik Investigation: How many cars does a coroner need?

Two vehicles sit outside Coroner Peter Galvan's home in Slidell.
Two vehicles sit outside Coroner Peter Galvan's home in Slidell.

Slidell, La.- FOX 8 had to put our video in slow motion to get a good glimpse of a car partially hidden.  It was parked behind some trees and positioned next to the garage at Dr. Peter Galvan's home.

"This is ridiculous," said Rick Franzo of the Concerned Citizens of Lacombe.

We became curious after we sent a simple request to the St. Tammany Parish coroner, asking for a list of all employee take-home vehicles, and to whom the coroner assigned them.

The grand total on their list: two.  Coroner Peter Galvan assigns them both to himself.

"To have two vehicles at home, I am sure somebody else is using this vehicle. Let's be honest, you know what's probably happening here," said Franzo.

And sure enough, when FOX 8 drove by Galvan's Slidell home, we found one car in the driveway and the other on the side of the garage.

"How did he get them both home? That means somebody had to drive them," explained Franzo.  "Why do you get two vehicles at the house and why are there two vehicles at the house?"

"And when is enough enough?" asked Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

Goyeneche said we've shown enough for a law enforcement entity to take a look.  He says it's unclear if any of the findings can be proven as criminal, but they should be examined.

"I have to believe that the people of St. Tammany Parish are going to be outraged by this," said Goyeneche.

Goyeneche says the findings we've presented could pique the interest of law enforcement.

We showed how records indicate Galvan could only have taken eight weeks vacation and sick time in a 12-year period.  And for the last two years, records show he took no vacation or sick time.  Galvan cashed in all the unused time and paid himself $67,000.  So according to Galvan's last two years of paychecks, he didn't take one vacation or sick day.

"This to me is a violation of the public trust. This is pure and simple greed in my opinion, and it's inappropriate," said Goyeneche.

Goyeneche said law enforcement will determine whether it's illegal. "Based on the analysis that you have done and had your expert do, Galvan may have crossed the line with this," said Goyeneche.

Meantime, we have new analysis that leads to even more questions.  We had Loyola CPA Patrick Lynch check our findings from Galvan's 2011 and 2012 pay stubs.

Galvan entered 2011 with 113 unused sick and vacation days. Over the two years, he earned an additional 81 days. Galvan cashed out and paid himself for 88 unused days, so he should be left with 106.

But according to the records, he still has 116 unused days, which makes about 10 extra days.

"Yes, 10 more than he should have, right," confirmed Lynch.

So, according to the paperwork, the office either didn't reduce enough of Galvan's cashed-out time or awarded him too much vacation and sick.  Either way, it could earn Galvan an additional $7,700.

"The whole thing is a mess, no question about it.  And is it an honest mistake or is it intent?  I don't know, but when you couple that with the other things we've seen, why would you suspect otherwise? I think you have a real case of fraud here," said Lynch.

"As a public official, you are going to be paid whether you are there or not. He doesn't need to be receiving vacation," explains Goyeneche.

Many elected officials don't receive any vacation, but this is the first agency we've come across that told us that they had little in writing.

"I can't believe they had the audacity to provide that to you," said Goyeneche.

When we asked for the policy for sick and vacation time, they wrote that there is no formal, written policy.  But they did give us a handwritten copy of the sick and vacation leave formula.

"You're kidding me. That is the official document?" said Goyeneche, laughing. "That is embarrassing."

A scribbled piece of paper remains the only official account from the office of their policy on vacation and sick leave.

"I think a first grader could write something more impressive than this," continued Goyeneche.

We know the state's legislative auditor is looking into the Coroner's Office.  If the auditor comes across findings they think cross a legal line, they'll hand them over to law enforcement.

Regardless, Goyeneche says Galvan's constituents should be outraged.  "What you describe here is a classic example of greed and power, and abusing power," said Goyeneche.