Lee Zurik Investigation: Coroner's cashed-out vacation days don't make sense

Dr. Peter Galvan has cashed out $177,000 worth of sick and vacation days, according to Coroner's Office records.
Dr. Peter Galvan has cashed out $177,000 worth of sick and vacation days, according to Coroner's Office records.

"Hello… we're here to pick up some public records."

We went directly to the St. Tammany Parish Coroner's Office Friday to obtain public records that could show us if Dr. Peter Galvan may have illegally paid himself taxpayer money. They provided the records, but a quick look at the paperwork in the parking lot sent us right back inside -- the Coroner's Office had whited out the information we wanted.

We wanted that paperwork because of some irregularities we found in other Coroner's Office records.

We've been looking at $177,000 -- money the coroner, Dr. Galvan, paid himself. Since 2004, he's cashed out unused sick and vacation days. A close look at the coroner's own records raises many red flags.

We'll start with the yearly audit, prepared by a certified public accountant and submitted to the state's legislative auditor. In it, the accountant writes, "Upon termination, earned vacation and sick leave are paid to the employee."

Galvan hasn't terminated his employment, but he paid himself for unused sick and vacation for nine straight years.

We consulted with Loyola CPA Patrick Lynch about our findings and he agrees that this is a policy violation. "According to what the audit states, yes," he said.

Rick Franzo of the Concerned Citizens of Lacombe, a government watchdog group, told us, "He shouldn't be able to take that unless he's terminated."

It's not the only discrepancy we showed Franzo. Galvan's CFO sent us a letter, writing that Galvan gets 20 vacation days every year and an additional 20 sick days. That also differs from the details in their 2011 audit.

The accountant writes, "The Coroner's Office adopted a policy for calculating compensated absences… all full-time permanent employees earn from 5 to 15 days each of vacation and sick leave, per year."

So according to the auditor, Galvan would earn at most 30 days. But the Coroner's Office told us that number is 40.

When we asked our CPA which is correct, the audit or the statements by the Coroner's Office, Pat Lynch responded, "I would say what's in the audit… the auditors should have gone through there and made sure that that is dovetails, and agrees with the policy… there are many red flags around this case."

We found another red flag in the documentation from the Coroner's Office. It shows how much vacation and sick time Galvan had remaining near the end of 2011. Over the years, he had accrued or not used 46 sick days and 68 vacation days.

So we did some calculations, computing Galvan's remaining unused sick and vacation time with the amount of sick and vacation the CFO says he could have earned and accrued, and the amount of time he has already cashed out.

Lynch checked our work and agreed with our conclusion. In a 12-year period, at most, Galvan documented only eight weeks of vacation and sick on his paychecks.

When we told Rick Franzo that Galvan was claiming to have used only eight weeks of paid vacation time over 12 years, he laughed. "No, you're kidding," he said, "This is just unbelievable. This is just… it's not even acceptable."

That brings us back to the documents the Coroner's Office whited out. We finally got what we wanted this week, and picked the records up from Galvan's attorney.

We wanted to see Galvan's pay stubs for 2011 and 2012 to see if he took any vacation. What we found was that Galvan has not taken one vacation or sick day in the last two years.

"Any person with common sense and any knowledge of how things go would realize that this is not even in ballpark," Franzo said. "It's not even close to being accurate."

Records in Alabama show Galvan owns a condo in Gulf Shores. This would mean Galvan never even took a vacation day in 2011 and 2012 to spend time at his condo on the beach.

So essentially Galvan didn't use one vacation or sick day in 2011 or 2012, and instead cashed them all in for those two years, paying himself a total of $66,923.

"To me, that's stealing," Patrick Lynch told us. "That's fraud by misappropriation of assets, no different than if he stole money."

But there's more. We also asked to see the sick and vacation policy for the office. They wrote to us, "There is no formal, written policy."

They tell us the only thing that comes close is a handwritten copy of the sick and vacation leave formula, which was approved by the prior executive director in 2008.

That handwritten page gives the effective date at the top. At the bottom, someone wrote "Tammy approved above" and a bunch of scribbled numbers that spell out what they say is their vacation formula. And that's it.

It all raises lots of questions, with some serious allegations. Has Galvan been illegally paid $177,000 in sick and vacation time? Has Galvan taken vacation but not subtracted that from unused time? Either could be a violation of the law.

Galvan could have been paid with public money for something he didn't earn or his own office policies didn't allow.

"It's another example of public officials living fat and happy on our money," concludes Lynch.

Galvan remains silent, unwilling to answer our questions.

"You cannot explain all these away," says Franzo. "In fact, why doesn't he come out in support and say, 'Listen, this is what happened, you got the story wrong.' If I'm in his position… If I knew I was innocent of this, I'd come out screaming, 'I'm innocent of this.'"

As we've reported previously, Galvan works basically full-time at his private medical practice -- that schedule plays into his paychecks, showing he took no vacation the past two years.

By the way, paychecks for previous years don't show available vacation, so we don't have a year-by-year breakdown of when he may have taken off.

So who approves his checks? We got the information from Galvan's chief financial officer, Kim Kelly. She is in charge of the pay system.

On February 1, we actually asked for a yearly breakdown of all the vacation and sick time Galvan used since 2005. The executive director of the Coroner's Office, Melanie Comeaux, responded to our email, said she would have to check with the CFO, and said she would get back to us.

She still hasn't given us an answer. So all we know is that there was no vacation or sick time used in the past two years, and no more than eight weeks' vacation in a 12-year stretch.