The headline announcing St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta’s latest legal run-in last week read sort of like a punchline. “Peralta indicted” would have been bad enough. “Peralta indicted again” — the actual headline — borders on the comically absurd.
If only the circumstances were amusing rather than downright icky.
Between his behavior and his elaborate explanations for his actions, Peralta has emerged as a genuinely bizarre public figure. That was apparent long before the state Attorney General’s Office weighed in with a six-count indictment out of Baton Rouge last week. Peralta’s third indictment — in the third jurisdiction, in just over a year — centered on alleged misuse of campaign funds.
To hear him tell it, it’s all a big, long-running, multifaceted misunderstanding.
The first two cases against Peralta surrounded the nasty break-up of his marriage. A sexual battery charge, filed in St. Bernard Parish, was dismissed shortly before trial, but the grand jury is still meeting and prosecutors expect a superseding indictment that may also include charges such as witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office.
The whole case started after Peralta’s then-estranged wife accused him of handcuffing, beating and raping her.
His explanation for that was the first public suggestion that we were dealing with a pretty creepy character. He didn’t deny that they had engaged in bondage, only that the incident happened against her will.
“She enjoyed rough sex. She enjoyed fantasy rape. The game had been played many times,” he said in an interview shortly after the incident became public. He said the encounter amounted to her birthday gift and shrugged off how that all might sound to his constituents. “I don’t think anyone has pure vanilla sex anymore,” he noted.
The second case, out of St. Tammany Parish, centers on allegations that Peralta stalked and harassed his now ex-wife. He allegedly sent her repeated emails despite a protective order that forbids contact. That trial’s scheduled to start next month.
Compared to that, the latest allegations are less disturbing and more, well, clownish.
But they’re also probably more dangerous for Peralta, not only because they relate to his public office in a way the domestic allegations don’t, but also because there’s a trail of paper and electronic evidence backing them up.
According to the latest charges, Peralta conducted his questionable business at casinos, perhaps the most closely monitored locations he could have possibly chosen. So authorities could easily show that during some of the times he claimed to be holding campaign meetings at various casino-affiliated restaurants in New Orleans and Mississippi, he actually was camped out at the slots.
Peralta’s supposed meeting costs even included $5.99 ATM withdrawal fees, and at least once the restaurant in question was closed at the time of the purported business gathering.
If that was dumb, Peralta’s decision to testify before the grand jury was dumber. Despite his clear confidence in his own ability to explain away his behavior, he obviously made a pretty poor impression. On top of three counts of filing false public records, the grand jury handed down an additional three counts of perjury. Because each of the six counts carries a potential five-year sentence, the perjury charges effectively double Peralta’s exposure.
A rocket scientist he’s not. In fact, he’s not even a savvy maneuverer like former St. Tammany and Washington parishes District Attorney Walter Reed, who allegedly managed to misdirect campaign money for years under the radar; Reed now faces federal charges, whereas Peralta has been charged by the state.
He’s also certainly no role model, either personally or professionally. And as parish president, he’s become a badly distracted embarrassment.
None of that seems to have sunk in. Despite all this, despite some fellow politicians’ efforts to push him out of office, Peralta still is talking about running for re-election this fall.
“I’m still running,” he said last week. “There’s no reason for me not to run; I didn’t do anything wrong.”
It’s almost funny. Except for the fact that it’s not.