Lawyer: Peralta target of new grand jury in East Baton Rouge _lowres

 

The owner of a local technology services firm that does work for St. Bernard Parish government is being investigated by a grand jury that for months has been considering criminal charges against embattled Parish President David Peralta.

Richard Perniciaro, who owns ParaTech LLC, of Jefferson Parish, confirmed this week that he received a target letter from the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office that indicates that state prosecutors believe they have evidence of wrongdoing by Perniciaro and are presenting it to the grand jury as part of a probe that is expected to result in new charges being handed up against Peralta.

News of the target letter is not exactly a surprise: Prosecutors have said in court that Peralta — who faces possible charges including witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office — may not be the only person to be indicted by the grand jury, which is slated to meet again Tuesday at 34th Judicial District Court in Chalmette.

Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, whose office is handling the grand jury investigation, declined comment Thursday.

Peralta already faces pending criminal charges in two jurisdictions.

Perniciaro said the letter he received didn’t disclose the accusations against him, but he expects it involves allegations of bid-rigging. He said prosecutors believe he submitted three bids for one project, using different companies he controls, to land work installing surveillance cameras at the parish transit yard.

Perniciaro said the documents weren’t actually bids but simply templates that he supplied to help the parish fill out paperwork to apply for grants to pay for the cameras.

He denied wrongdoing but said the investigation is on his mind. “You always worry when it goes to the grand jury,” he said.

Peralta backed Perniciaro’s assessment Thursday, saying the parish hadn’t formally sought bids and that ParaTech already had an exclusive contract to handle parish technology services.

“They were not bids, per se,” Peralta said. “They were just specifications and costs. That’s all I know.”

The cameras have yet to be installed at the yard, he said.

ParaTech has come under increased scrutiny this week as the Parish Council has taken steps to force Peralta to end the firm’s contract. The council is set to vote Friday on an ordinance that would require Peralta to terminate the deal.

If the ordinance passes, as seems likely, Peralta promises to veto it. The council could override the veto with a vote of at least five of its seven members.

The ParaTech deal — worth upward of $70,000 a year, according to Perniciaro — has been in place since early 2014.

Perniciaro said Harold “Bubby” Rosselli, a ParaTech employee assigned to parish government, also has received a target letter.

Reached by phone Thursday, Rosselli declined comment.

ParaTech’s 2014 contract with the parish calls for it to “perform all necessary technology professional services.” But the Parish Council — which has had an icy relationship with Peralta for the past two years — refused to use the company for its email system, charging that Perniciaro was too close to Peralta to be trusted.

Last fall, the council told ParaTech it intended to hire another company to set up its email. ParaTech countered with a lawsuit saying the council’s action breached its contract with the parish.

Peralta said this week that he had reached a settlement with ParaTech over the lawsuit, stipulating the firm will drop its claims with no money changing hands and with the understanding that the firm would allow the council to use its own technology services provider.

Perniciaro said the language in his contract with St. Bernard is clear and provides “pretty compelling evidence” that the council’s actions have breached the pact, but he said he’s ready to move on. He and Peralta both contend that the council is overstepping its authority in trying to terminate the deal.

As for the grand jury investigation, Perniciaro said his company hasn’t gotten the surveillance camera work anyway, and he feels that he’s become collateral damage in the state’s dogged pursuit of Peralta, stemming from an October 2013 incident in which Peralta’s then-wife accused him of brutally raping her in their Meraux home. Peralta has denied raping her. The couple has since divorced.

“Ultimately, if there was no bid and nothing, no money ever changed hands on that system, what are you charging me with?” Perniciaro asked. “It can’t be bid-rigging if there was never a bid. Attempted bid-rigging?”

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompson MSY.