Lee Zurik Investigation: Feds charge St. Tammany coroner; Galvan to resign
Federal investigators have filed corruption charges against Dr. Peter Galvan, St. Tammany Parish's embattled coroner, linked to questionable spending in office, improper cash-outs of vacation and sick days, and Galvan's contract to provide medical services to inmates at Slidell's city jail.
Prosecutors delivered a bill of information Friday at the federal courthouse in New Orleans. It indicates the coroner is charged with conspiracy to commit theft of property and several other corruption charges.
That Galvan is charged in a bill of information, rather than an indictment, is an apparent sign that he is cooperating with investigators and may be planning a plea deal.
FOX 8 News reported in March that the FBI was investigating whether Galvan committed payroll fraud by receiving money for unused vacation time, even though Facebook photos show Galvan on vacation in Greece, Spain, the California wine country and Mexico during the time periods in question. One of the corruption charges is linked to those cash-outs.
In July, sources close to the St. Tammany Parish coroner's office told FOX 8 News the FBI raided the coroner's office in June to find documents related to a Kohler marine generator, purchased by the coroner's office in December 2011 and delivered sometime in January 2012. Marine generators are used for boats; Galvan's office doesn't own a boat.
Friday's bill of information includes the charge that Galvan illegally paid for that generator with public funds, as well as a life raft, GPS for an airplane and, through improper credit card use, meals and other items.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in New Orleans detailed the charges in a news release Friday afternoon:
PETER GALVAN, 54, a resident of St. Tammany Parish, and the elected St. Tammany Parish Coroner, was charged today in a bill of information with conspiring with two other individuals to steal money from the St. Tammany Coroner's Office, announced U. S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite, Jr.
The bill of information charges that as an elected official, GALVAN did not earn annual or sick leave. However, with the assistance of another coroner's office employee, GALVAN received yearly payments for unused annual and sick leave, totaling $111,376 over a five year period.
GALVAN, as a physician, individually contracted with the City of Slidell, Louisiana to provide medical services for inmates of the Slidell City Jail. The contract was not with the St. Tammany Parish Coroner's Office, but with GALVAN personally. However, GALVAN conspired with another individual employed with the St. Tammany Parish Coroner's Office to service this contract while the other individual was supposed to be working for and was being paid by the St. Tammany Parish Coroner's Office. The Bill of Information charges that the Coroner's Office employee was paid at least $50,000 in public funds to fulfill GALVAN's personal contract.
Additionally, GALVAN conspired with an employee of the coroner's office to purchase a $9,170 generator for GALVAN's personal vessel, a life raft and life jackets for his personal vessel valued at $4,841, and a Global Positioning Satellite for his personal use valued at $2,395, all with St. Tammany Parish Coroner's Office funds.
Finally, the Bill of Information alleges that GALVAN used his St. Tammany Parish Coroner's Office credit card to make purchases of meals and other personal items with his public credit card totaling $15,606 which were unrelated to the office's business.
If he is convicted, GALVAN faces a statutory maximum of five years in jail, a $250,000 fine and restitution.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite, Jr. reiterated that a Bill of Information is simply an allegation and that Dr. GALVAN is presumed to be innocent and he noted the investigation of the operation and personnel employed by the St. Tammany Coroner's Office is continuing.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, and the State of Louisiana Legislative Auditor. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Carter K. D. Guice, Jr. and Chandra Menon.
FOX 8 News has raised questions about Galvan's spending in our Body of Evidence investigative series. The issues range from the generator to more than $100,000 of cashed-out unused sick and vacation time. While Galvan claimed he took no vacation, his wife's Facebook page clearly showed luxurious trips to Europe and San Francisco's wine country.
Galvan is the highest-paid public official in the state of Louisiana. In 2012, records show, the coroner received a salary of $199,555 - tens of thousands more than Governor Bobby Jindal and other state officials make. When adding the money from 40 unused vacation and sick days he declared in 2012, his total take-home pay jumped to $230,736.
That sky-high pay resulted from several pay raises Galvan approved for himself following the 2004 passage of a millage increase approved by parish taxpayers. That revenue went directly to the Coroner's Office; the Parish Council had no control over it, until legislation passed this year to give the council control over the coroner's finances. Galvan filed suit against the state and the parish following the bill's passage, claiming it was unconstitutional.
Galvan also runs a private medical practice and had a $47,000 contract with the City of Slidell. The money paid for Galvan to treat sick inmates at the Slidell jail - but our investigation showed Galvan never actually went to the jail. Jail logs show Galvan sent a Coroner's Office employee, chief death investigator Mark Lombard, to look after the inmates.
Our sources say the FBI asked the City of Slidell for the contract and those jail logs. The city canceled the contract earlier this year.
All totaled, the feds allege Galvan misspent $193,388, most of it for the jail contract and cashing out unused leave.
The allegations against Galvan have prompted not only the federal investigation but also a probe by the Legislative Auditor's Office, a lawsuit by the Parish Council and a recall effort by the advocacy group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Parish.
Immediately following news of the charges, St. Tammany Parish government issued this news release, titled "GALVAN IS TO GO":
As was released by the United States Attorney's office earlier today, Peter Galvan will resign as the St. Tammany Parish Coroner effective Friday, October 18, 2013.
"Today, we are glad that justice will be served, and the situation brought on by Dr. Galvan will be corrected," said Pat Brister, St. Tammany Parish President. "We have worked for months cooperating with the authorities to provide them the information they need to arrive at this decision. This administration and the Parish Council are eager to move forward with financial oversight of a new Coroner's Office, a coroner's office that the citizens of this Parish deserve."
Parish Government and the Council have recently assumed greater oversight of the financials of the Coroner's office as a direct response to legislation that was passed in the last session to reverse a 2007 law that allowed the Coroner to oversee his own finances.
"I have consistently said that government should work with efficiency and effectiveness, and there is no place for a public servant that goes down the road of abuse and squander," said Brister.
Also Friday afternoon, Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith issued this statement about the charges:
Today's developments in the case against Dr. Galvan have been a long time coming. His contract with the City of Slidell for the provision of medical services at the City Jail is part of the bill of information, and we have already provided investigators all information they have requested. As this matter moves into the justice system -- and out of the Coroner's Office -- I hope we can all move past the scandals and work together for good, honest government. As I've said before, any elected official who betrays the public's trust must face the consequences. The wheels of justice sometimes grind more slowly than we would like, but this move by federal authorities brings us one step closer to a full resolution.