A grand jury that for months has been considering a fresh set of criminal charges against embattled St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta met again Tuesday without handing up any indictments.
Prosecutors with the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office have said in court that Peralta, 61, could be charged with witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office. Those charges would be in addition to pending criminal cases that the first-term parish leader already faces in two other jurisdictions.
Peralta was charged last month in East Baton Rouge Parish in a six-count indictment that accuses him of repeatedly tapping his campaign account for gambling — the first time he has been accused of committing a crime related to his elected position.
He had been set to stand trial this month in St. Tammany Parish on a stalking charge that was handed up by a grand jury last September. In that case, Peralta is accused of harassing his now ex-wife, Sharon Schaefer, by sending her numerous emails despite a protective order prohibiting any contact.
The proceeding was pushed back after Peralta’s attorney, Martin Regan, filed a motion requesting that Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office recuse itself from the case; Caldwell is resisting the request. Judge Scott Gardner, of 22nd Judicial District Court, has set a July 13 hearing on Regan’s motion.
Regan made a similar request Monday, seeking to force Caldwell’s office to step aside from the grand jury proceedings underway at 34th Judicial District Court in Chalmette.
In both cases, Peralta contends he is being targeted by state prosecutors for political reasons. He has filed suit in federal court against Caldwell’s office, contending that the office relied on perjured testimony to obtain the first grand jury indictment against him in April 2014, a sexual battery charge that was dismissed a year later after the judge overseeing the case rejected the state’s request for a delay.
Prosecutors have dismissed the lawsuit’s claims as baseless. In addition, they have said the St. Bernard panel is likely to hand up additional charges against Peralta and possibly others with ties to him.
Richard Perniciaro, the owner of ParaTech LLC, a local technology services firm that does work for parish government, confirmed last week that he received a target letter from the Attorney General’s Office indicating that prosecutors believe they have evidence of wrongdoing by Perniciaro — potentially bid-rigging, he thinks — and are presenting it to the same grand jury.
Perniciaro has denied wrongdoing and has said Harold “Bubby” Rosselli, a ParaTech employee assigned to parish government, also received a target letter.
Peralta’s legal troubles began with an October 2013 incident in which Schaefer — then his wife — accused him of handcuffing, beating and raping her in their Meraux home. Peralta denies raping her and instead alleges that the couple had engaged in “rough sex” that day at her request; Schaefer disputes that. They have since divorced.
Peralta has said he plans to run for re-election in the fall.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.