St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan was charged in a bill of information in federal court Friday that accuses him of helping himself to about $200,000 in public money that he was not entitled to.
The fact that he was charged in a bill of information rather than an indictment is almost always a sign that the target has signed a plea deal and is cooperating with authorities. Galvan is resigning his office as of Oct. 18., according to St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister.
Galvan, 54, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit theft. According to the bill of information, he conspired with two unnamed employees of the office, “Individual A” and “Individual B,” to misuse the office’s money.
The first individual helped him secure pay for unused annual and sick leave that he was not entitled to, in the amount of $111,376, the document says.
Individual B, the bill of information says, helped Galvan fulfill a contract his private medical practice had with the Slidell jail by using an employee of the coroner’s office. That allowed Galvan to profit personally to the tune of $50,000, the document says. Though it does not say so in the documents, the medical services were provided by Mark Lombard, the coroner’s chief investigator.
Individual B helped Galvan buy several items for personal use with the coroner’s office’s funds, including a life raft, a marine generator and some flotation devices, it says. All told, those items cost $14,011. The employee also facilitated Galvan’s use of an office debit card to improperly purchase $15,606 worth of meals and other personal items.
The charges against Galvan come after months of scrutiny of spending by his office by a federal grand jury and also the state Legislative Auditor’s Office.
The FBI executed search warrants at the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office in May. Galvan was previously ordered to provide documents in response to at least three grand jury subpoenas, according to multiple media reports. Those documents involved a land deal between Galvan’s private corporation and Weyerhauser Co. for acreage near the land purchased for the new $11 million state-of-the art coroner’s office along Louisiana 434 in Lacombe, as well as records that outlined the deal between Galvan’s private medical pratice and the Slidell jail. The third subpoena sought a laundry list of items, including bank statements and credit card purchases, focusing on purchases that appeared to be personal in nature, such as aviation lessons.
Two top-ranking officials at the coroner’s office resigned abruptly in May, Kim Kelly, who served as chief financial officer, and Melanie Comeaux, chief executive officer.
Kelly’s attorney, Vincent Wynne, confirmed in May that she had testified before the grand jury but said she was not target of the investigation. He said she appeared to testify about documents that the grand jury was reviewing.
Kelly and Comeaux were among those who were paid six-figure salaries, according to media reports. Galvan’s salary was about $239,000 this year.
Galvan, who first won office in a 1999 election, has been the target of an ongoing recall petition drive — one that will apparently become moot with his resignation.
“Today we are glad that justice will be served, and the situation brought on by Dr. Galvan will be corrected,’’ Parish President Pat Brister said in a prepared statement. She said that the parish has been cooperating with authorities for months to provide information they needed.
“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 squalor,’’ Brister said.
The St. Tammany Parish Council had asked Galvan to resign in March and at the same meeeting asked him to return money that he had been paid out for vacation and sick time.
In August, the Parish Council passed a second resolution asking him to reduce his public salary. The Coroner’s Office was stripped of much of its financial independence by the state Legislature last session, including the ability to set salaries, but the coroner’s salary is constitutionally protected and cannot be diminished during a coroner’s term of office.
Galvan has challenged the constitutionality of that law, one of several court battles he is waging that have resulted in legal fees topping $700,000.
Galvan is in his fourth term.
Kyle Schonekas, a lawyer for Galvan, did not immediately return a phone call.
Reporter John Simerman contributed to this story.