State and local authorities are investigating whether theft is to blame for a sharp decline in St. Bernard Parish’s proceeds from scrap metal sales in recent years.
St. Bernard officials, including Chief Administrative Officer Michael Gorbaty and Finance Director Ross Gonzales, met with detectives from the Sheriff’s Office this month and reported that the parish’s proceeds from scrap metal it sells have dwindled since 2011.
Revenue fell from $166,000 in 2011 to $76,000 a year later, according to a four-page investigative report. The parish’s take dipped to $27,000 in 2013 and to $3,500 in 2014. This year, the parish did not receive a check for scrap sales until late April, and then it was for a nominal amount.
The report noted that parish officials were “concerned with the dramatic reduction in monies received for scrap metal.”
Gorbaty declined comment because the matter remains under investigation.
Parish President David Peralta said his administration asked the Sheriff’s Office to investigate after the sharp drop in revenue turned up in an annual parish audit. He said he’s waiting for the Sheriff’s Office to conclude its investigation, but he offered one possible explanation: that the scrap sales fell partly because demolition work tied to Hurricane Katrina repairs has waned in the past four years.
It’s possible that the theft allegations will become a focus of the grand jury that’s met at least a half-dozen times in St. Bernard to consider criminal charges against Peralta and others.
Peralta denied wrongdoing Thursday and said he’s not worried about getting drawn into the state and local probe.
“That’s fine with me,” he said about the investigation. “I’m so removed from that, it’s not even funny.”
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.