Zurik: LSP criminal investigation launched into Lafourche coroner accused of padding paycheck
LAFOURCHE PARISH, La. (WVUE) - Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson said at Tuesday (March 28) night’s council meeting that he received a letter from the State Attorney General, acknowledging an ongoing criminal investigation into Lafourche Parish Coroner Dr. John King.
FOX 8 obtained a copy of the letter, in which Attorney General Jeff Landry addresses the investigation by Louisiana State Police.
The investigation centers around money King has paid himself for performing autopsies, which the Parish Council didn’t approve. FOX 8 reported those payments King collected in an investigation in February.
Landry sent the letter to Chaisson after the parish asked for an A.G. opinion on whether fees collected by the coroner were legal.
King charged up to $500 dollars per autopsy. In 2022, those autopsies earned him an additional $54,000. Dr. Patrick Walker says King fired him and another doctor who previously performed autopsy work so he could start collecting the money himself.
“I think he’s doing it to subsidize his income. Because as a coroner, you know, you’re not, you get paid a salary, and you’re not supposed to charge the coroner’s office, or the parish, any other subsequent fees for the autopsies. I think it’s wrong. It’s unethical to say at the best,” Dr. Walker said.
The previous ordinance set the parish coroner’s salary at $25,000 and did not allow the coroner to collect fees. Despite openly discussing the criminal investigation at Tuesday night’s meeting, the parish council decided to raise King’s salary and allow him to collect fees for performing autopsies.
Councilman Armand Autin maintained the new ordinance was aimed at clearing up paperwork and putting in writing that King could collect the salary he’s already been collecting.
“I know there’s been these investigative reports and this investigation going on. This has nothing to do with that. This is clearing up our paperwork and allowing us to move from today forward,” Autin said.
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Rafael Goyeneche with the Metropolitan Crime Commission previously told FOX 8 there were allegations of a quota within the coroner’s office, and that King wanted to perform at least 10 autopsies a month in order to increase his take-home pay.
Chaisson told councilmembers he was uneasy about allowing the coroner to charge fees moving forward.
“I still have some concerns about the fee structure and whether or not, as councilman Adams says, incentivizes someone to maybe do more autopsies than we need to,” Chaisson said.
Some council members also voiced concerns about taking action to change the salary amid the ongoing investigations.
“I don’t want to touch this at all. I’m sorry, there’s just too much going around it as far as the investigation, the news, Lee Zurik, I don’t see how we can touch this right now because of the investigations,” Councilman William Adams said. “So, I don’t want to touch this at all. I think we should just leave it alone and wait for the investigation, and wait till all the reports are done. I understand there’s paperwork to clear up. I don’t know, maybe. But I’m staying as far away from this as I can.”
The Lafourche council previously said it planned to wait to address the salary until it got an opinion from the Attorney General. Despite the A.G.’s refusal to weigh in amid the criminal investigation, the council passed the ordinance Tuesday night. Five council members voted in favor, two voted against, and two abstained.
FOX 8 reached out to Chaisson, the Attorney General’s office, and King’s attorney for comment. No one responded.
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