Prosecutors with the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office have empaneled a state grand jury to consider multiple criminal charges against St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta, a source familiar with the matter told The New Orleans Advocate.
The grand jury was convened Thursday morning in 34th Judicial District Court in Chalmette and was sent home for the day around lunchtime, said the source, who requested anonymity because the panel’s deliberations are secret under state law.
Jurors are likely to weigh charges against the embattled first-term parish president that include witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office, the source said.
Investigators executed a search warrant in July at Peralta’s home and government offices. The warrant indicated that authorities believed they had evidence he might have committed those three crimes.
Peralta has faced mounting legal issues stemming from an October 2013 incident during which his then-wife, Sharon Schaefer, accused him of handcuffing, beating and raping her in their Meraux home. Peralta maintains that the couple engaged in “rough sex” that day at her request; Schaefer has denied that claim, saying the couple weren’t even on speaking terms at the time. They have since divorced.
Peralta was indicted in April by a grand jury in St. Bernard on one count of sexual battery in connection with the allegations by Schaefer. He pleaded not guilty and was released on a $20,000 bond. The case is expected to be tried in March.
In September, a grand jury in St. Tammany Parish charged Peralta with one count of felony stalking for allegedly harassing Schaefer. He pleaded not guilty and posted a $35,000 bond on that charge. That case is set for trial in May.
The grand jury seated this week would be considering charges above and beyond those two indictments.
During a recent court appearance for Peralta’s sexual battery case in St. Bernard, Assistant Attorney General David Weilbaecher Jr. acknowledged that the parish leader was the focus of an “ongoing malfeasance investigation” by state law enforcement authorities. He offered no details and declined further comment after the hearing.
Peralta’s attorney, Martin Regan, did not return a call Thursday.
Reached by phone, Peralta said he was unaware of any grand jury proceeding.
Laura Gerdes Colligan, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, declined comment on whether a grand jury is looking into the case.
For more than a year, Peralta has resisted calls from some local officials and residents to resign, instead insisting that he plans to run for re-election later this year,
Meanwhile, he also faces a civil lawsuit that his ex-wife filed at the Chalmette courthouse in October. The lawsuit, which seeks more than $50,000 in damages, largely repeats a litany of allegations against Peralta, including that he “raped, sexually battered and sexually assaulted” Schaefer during that 2013 incident — her 49th birthday — and kept her handcuffed while beating her.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.