Embattled St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta may not be the only person facing criminal charges in a new indictment that’s likely to be handed up by a grand jury in coming weeks, a prosecutor with the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office told a state judge at a hearing Tuesday.
Assistant Attorney General David Weilbaecher Jr. told Judge Frank Foil that he “developed really interesting information over the weekend” about the case. Without giving details, Weilbaecher said prosecutors are now considering “what charges and who should be charged” in the new indictment.
Weilbaecher pegged the odds of new charges at a “99.5 percent” likelihood, up half a percentage point from a prediction he made during a hearing last week.
Asked about the “really interesting information,” Weilbaecher showed his hand only slightly. “Data, Judge. Data,” he told Foil.
A grand jury in St. Bernard is considering multiple possible criminal charges against the first-term parish president, reportedly including conspiracy, witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office. Jurors are scheduled to continue deliberating next week.
Both sides are prohibited by a gag order from discussing the case publicly outside of court.
If a new indictment is filed, it would supersede the legal proceedings against Peralta that have been playing out in St. Bernard since last year. A new judge would likely be appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court to handle the new case, though it wouldn’t affect a separate case in St. Tammany Parish.
In the meantime, Foil — a retired judge appointed to hear the case in 34th Judicial District Court in Chalmette after all four of the court’s judges recused themselves— repeatedly pressed both sides Tuesday to be ready for the trial to begin as scheduled next month. “I am determined to begin picking this jury on the April date,” he said.
Foil has previously said that he is willing to try to seat a jury in St. Bernard but would move the case elsewhere if that task proves too challenging. However, he acknowledged Tuesday having “serious doubts” about finding an impartial jury in the parish, considering how much publicity the case has received.
Peralta has been in and out of court since his ex-wife, Sharon Schaefer, accused him of handcuffing, beating and raping her in their Meraux home in October 2013. Peralta has insisted that the couple — still married at the time — occasionally engaged in “rough sex” and that he was fulfilling his wife’s “rape fantasy.” Schaefer has denied asking her husband to “rape” her as part of a sexual game.
Peralta was indicted by two grand juries last year, first in St. Bernard, where he faces one count of sexual battery, and then in St. Tammany Parish, where he’s charged with stalking Schaefer. He has pleaded not guilty to both charges. Both cases are scheduled to be tried this spring.
Weilbaecher said he expects to have more definitive information about potential new charges ahead of the next hearing, set for April 1.
“The next thing we’re going to hear about is whether or not we’re going to go forward,” Foil said.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.