Lee Zurik Investigation: Peter Galvan's golden parachute

Peter Galvan
Peter Galvan

Two local watchdogs want the former St. Tammany coroner to pay more money back to the parish. A federal judge will decide next month whether to order Dr. Peter Galvan to pay more in restitution.

"I hope the judge considers all of the questionable expenditures and benefits that he received during his tenure as coroner," says Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

If U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan does, Goyeneche says, Galvan would owe much more than the $200,000 he's already required to pay back.

Take a look at the report the state's legislative auditor released last year. It finds that, when you add up a questionable contract in Slidell, purchases for Galvan's boat and airplane, questionable meals and travel, parties, and the cashed-out vacation and sick leave, Galvan received more than $600,000 - possibly in violation of the law.

Goyeneche describes that money as "a substantial sum of money that I believe has been left on the table, that are public dollars, that he received benefit from. And if he's truly trying to make amends with St. Tammany Parish and the public, I believe he has an ethical obligation to make the parish whole again and return all of the misspent funds."

But there's more. Galvan will reach retirement age in five and a half years, when he turns 60. Then, he'll start collecting even more money from the state.

According to state records, starting at age 60, Galvan will receive $80,660 a year for the rest of his life. That's his public retirement.

Remember, Galvan's retirement income escalated because of the lucrative pay raises he gave himself, which made him the highest-paid elected official in Louisiana.

Let's go back to Galvan's first full year as coroner - he made $75,000 - and let's assume he received a 3-percent salary increase every year. He would have made about $100,000 last year. In this scenario, Galvan's retirement would be $40,833 per year.

Goyeneche says, "I have a real problem with him receiving the benefits, the privilege of being, quote-unquote, a 'public employee' when he didn't earn those benefits."

So there's another way to look at this - by giving himself those hefty pay raises, Galvan could have essentially increased his yearly retirement by $39,827 every year.

Rick Franzo of the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany says, "I think it's sad. I think we have a system that's a broken, a system that's wrong."

If Galvan lives to 85, he collects his retirement for 25 years. So by giving himself those raises, he'll collect $80,000 every year, instead of $40,000. And over 25 years, that ends up being an additional $995,675.

Franzo hopes the judge takes this into consideration next month.

"Very least, she should go back to when he got into office," says Franzo. "Then all of a sudden, we had that major escalation to go up to $200,000. At very least, go back to that number when you're making your decision. Don't make that decision based on what he tried to do at the end to get that salary up to $200,000. It's not fair to the taxpayers. It's just not fair, period."

Again, Galvan is currently required only to pay back about $200,000. It's up to the judge to decide if he owes more.

"If she doesn't, I think it's a travesty to the system, it's a travesty to taxpayers in St. Tammany Parish, and it's just outright wrong," Franzo insists.

Goyeneche says Galvan shouldn't wait for the judge. Galvan wouldn't talk as he left federal court nearly two weeks ago, but in front of the judge he apologized for ripping off taxpayers. Now, Goyeneche says, it's time for Galvan to show that he means it.

"I know that when he went to court the other day, he expressed his remorse to the sentencing judge," says Goyeneche. "And I think that your actions speak louder than your words."

David Caldwell of the state's Attorney General's Office says there is still an active and ongoing investigation into Galvan. Their main goal is to get "full restitution" for St. Tammany Parish. Caldwell said the state thinks the "restitution is light" in the federal case and their "goal is to get every dime ill gotten back to St. Tammany."

Galvan's next court hearing is set for March 12.

Copyright WVUE; all rights reserved.