Zurik: Police issue search warrant to Lafourche coroner accused of padding paycheck
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Louisiana State Police sent a search warrant to the office of longtime Lafourche Parish Coroner Dr. John King, demanding documents from the office. The search warrant shows Detective Craig Rhodes is looking into who performed autopsies for the parish for the past 15 years.
Fox 8 previously reported King charged up to $500 for each autopsy he performed, however, there are questions surrounding whether he was allowed to pay himself that money since the Lafourche Parish Council didn’t approve the charges.
“I mean, you’re talking about a public official, allegedly using his office for his own personal enrichment,” Raphael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission said.
In 2022, the fees King charged for autopsies earned him an additional $54,000. Sources tell Fox 8 that King had a quota, and wanted to perform 10 autopsies per month to earn additional income.
Dr. Patrick Walker, who used to work for the coroner’s office, told Fox 8 King fired him and another doctor who had performed autopsies so he could start collecting the money himself.
“I think he’s doing it to subsidize his income,” Walker said. “Because as a coroner … 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, they’re done … I think it’s wrong. It’s unethical to say at the best.’’
Records obtained by Fox 8 show that for 10 years King collected only his salary. However, in September 2021, King started paying himself additional fees for performing the autopsies. King also used to work at an Ochsner Hospital in the Bayou Parishes. King’s attorney confirms to Fox 8 that King resigned from that job in August 2021.
“Essentially, you have an elected official that is more interested in profiting from his office, and apparently, his revenue may have been impacted, and his method to compensate for that was to bill a parish additional funds for services that weren’t authorized by parish ordinance,” Goyeneche said.
Fox 8 showed King might have performed unnecessary external autopsies to collect the fees. One death investigation report obtained by Fox 8 from a law enforcement source shows King decided to perform an autopsy on a 57-year-old man who had cirrhosis of the liver, Hepatitis C, and hypertension. In that report, a worker also noted “After speaking to Dr. King he stated he wants to autopsy the decedent to meet his ten bodies a month.”
In another report obtained through a law enforcement source, a 47-year-old white female died of a possible drug overdose. An emergency room blood test found heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines in her system. The woman was brought to the hospital in cardiac arrest. The report notes she had no family. Still, King told his staff he wanted to externally view the body and filed an invoice for $400 for that autopsy.
The search warrant shows state police are investigating whether King violated Louisiana’s public contract fraud law. It states a public officer is not allowed to “secure any expenditure of public funds to himself.”
State police detective Rhodes asked for information on how many deaths Lafourche Parish recorded each year since 2008, the total number of autopsies performed each of those years, and who performed them. The warrant orders King’s office to search for the information and turn it over to Rhodes.
Fox 8 reached out to King’s attorney for comment on this story but did not get a response.
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