Lee Zurik Investigation: Voicemails to Sharon Peralta tell one story, councilmen tell another

Attorney Sharon Williams (Source: NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune)
Attorney Sharon Williams (Source: NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune)

As the marital dispute involving a parish president winds on, a string of voicemails and text messages has added a new twist on matters.

"Sharon, this is Sharon Williams. Call me when you get a chance."

That's the content of the first of several voicemails from December 19, 2013, left on the cellphone of Sharon Peralta - the estranged wife of St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta. She has accused her husband of rape and sexual assault.

These voicemails were left by Sharon Williams, an attorney in St. Bernard Parish. She left seven of them in a few hours, trying to get Sharon Peralta to call her back, claiming Peralta was about to lose her job as the parish's paralegal.

The second voicemail is much like the first, identifying the caller as Sharon Williams.  Then, there's the third voicemail:

"Sharon, you got to call me right now. They are… the council… I don't quite understand this. But the council is on the warpath. David is having a [expletive] and they're getting ready to cut the funding for your job. I don't understand, but you need to call me and you need to talk to David, I guess, because… Don't talk to anybody on the council unless it's somebody you're close to, and call and find out what the hell is going on. This is very strange. Call me."

A little while later there's another message from Sharon Williams, shortly after she claimed to receive a phone call from David Peralta:

Sharon, this is Sharon [Williams], you are scaring me now. Call me, I just want to know you're all right. David just called again, he is freaking out. He sounds like he's about to have a damn stroke. Oh God, he's trying to stop this thing, but I don't know. It doesn't look good. Call me.

Sharon Peralta never called Williams back but the phone calls continued, with threats that the council wanted to get rid of Sharon Peralta.  Here's Sharon Williams' fifth voicemail:

"Sharon, this is what I've found out so far. The council is going to use you against David to make the whole thing public and un-fund the paralegal salary. Or, according to David, he talked to [St. Bernard Parish Legal Counsel William] McGoey, who just got on a plane to go skiing. They can… you can take a leave of absence. David said he will put you on his hospitalization and pay for it. He said that it wouldn't disturb your pension."

The next voicemail came from the parish president himself:

"Sharon, this is David. Please give us a call. It's important. We wouldn't be calling if it wasn't important. And it is certainly, certainly safe for you to come here, or just at least call Sharon."

And a little while later, there was yet another message from Sharon Williams:

"Sharon, David is gone. I've got to warn you of what they have in mind. This is… this is horrendous. I am trying to keep you from getting hurt. "

David Peralta then sent his wife this text message:

"Sweetheart please call Sharon ASAP. This is not about me this is about your job. We are trying to help but need your cooperation. Please call now."

All these voicemails and text messages, aimed at getting Sharon Peralta to call back, were based on the premise that the council wanted to defund her paralegal position.

That premise appears to be false.

When we asked Councilman Casey Hunnicutt if the council ever considered defunding Sharon Peralta's position, he responded, "No, Lee, the council never ever, nor did the administration ask the council to defund that position."

In fact, council members say they never talked about defunding staff positions during budget talks.

"It's bizarre, absolutely bizarre," Councilman Guy McGinnis told us. "I've talked to every single council member, talked to the finance director. And that statement in itself is a lie. I don't know how else to say it."

We played all of the voicemails for McGinnis, the budget chairman. And when we asked him if the council was "on the warpath," as Sharon Williams claimed in one voicemail, he said, "Absolutely not, all seven members were not on the warpath. I mean, who are we on a warpath to get? Sharon Peralta? David Peralta? We didn't defund anyone's job. So we couldn't have been on the warpath."

McGinnis went on to say, "The council shouldn't be brought into this dispute between President Peralta and his wife."

All of this leads to one question: Why did David Peralta and Sharon Williams leave those messages, after all?

McGinnis said, "All I could think, Lee, is that there was an attempt to get her to call someone. Very simple."

Sharon Peralta's attorney agrees. He told us in a statement that, the morning of the voicemails, Sharon Peralta left a message for the St. Bernard district attorney, asking for the office to recuse itself from the rape investigation.

The attorney wrote, "After speaking with District Attorney Jack Rowley, that same day, Sharon Peralta was inundated with phone calls and a text message from David Peralta and associates. Sharon Peralta believes this was an attempt to get her out of hiding to meet with him by using the council to threaten her job so that he could stop her from pursuing the attorney general's office".

We called Sharon Williams; she declined our request for an on-camera interview.

We emailed David Peralta last Thursday for a comment. He replied he would be "most happy to address this matter." But a few minutes later, he emailed again and asked us for a transcript or copy of the voicemails. We didn't have a transcript available so we sent him a summary. He responded that "helps."

And on Friday we got a letter from Peralta, saying he wouldn't comment without a transcript - so we sent him one. Peralta never got back to us with any statement.

"It's an embarrassment," McGinnis said. "That's how I look at it. And I wish none of this would be going on."

Councilman McGinnis says the turmoil between David Peralta and his wife gives the parish a black eye. He's still trying to figure out the details behind this series of messages, a series that ended with Sharon Williams leaving her seventh message in a few hours:

"Sharon I'm not going to call you again, honey. You've hurt my feelings. You think I've gone to David's side and I haven't. But I have been trying to make sure you can get another job. So I wish you all the luck in the world, and I imagine it's going to be a hard time. But Merry Christmas baby. Bye."

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