St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta has fired two parish employees who are known to be cooperating with the state’s multipronged criminal case against him.
On Friday, Peralta fired Donald Bourgeois, his onetime campaign manager, who worked in St. Bernard’s Recovery Department. On Tuesday, he fired Technology Director Jeffrey Brannon after initially suspending him a day earlier.
Peralta said both were the subjects of separate “ongoing internal investigations” that were months in the making.
After initially declining Tuesday to elaborate on the nature of either investigation, Peralta later shed light on the allegations against the two men.
According to Peralta, Brannon is accused of improperly accessing personal and private emails between Peralta and the parish’s human resources director, Jessica Snyder.
He said Bourgeois was fired for two reasons: using a government vehicle to go to Parish Councilman Guy McInnis’ campaign headquarters in Chalmette and failing to recover more than $300,000 in federal disaster aid money that he had been instructed to collect for the past year.
“You can’t use your car to do political stuff,” Peralta said.
McInnis, who is set to run against Peralta for the parish’s job in the fall, denied campaigning with Bourgeois. Instead, he said, Bourgeois on Thursday “pulled up, gave me some government-related (documents) and left, without getting out of his car.”
McInnis said Bourgeois “has never been to any of my political meetings.” He said parish Chief Administrative Officer Michael Gorbaty called to ask him about the drop-off, which he said involved “government-related documents that the council had requested.”
Peralta said Bourgeois has been replaced by Andrew Becker Jr., formerly St. Bernard’s Community Development Block Grant project manager.
Peralta, who faces pending criminal charges in two jurisdictions, said the moves against Bourgeois and Brannon were not retaliatory. He denied knowing that either of them is cooperating with state investigators.
“I don’t have any idea that they’re cooperating against me,” he said. “How do I know? I don’t know if they are or they aren’t.”
Still, it’s been clear for some time that testimony from both men could play into criminal charges against Peralta. He already has been indicted three times, and a St. Bernard grand jury has been considering evidence that could lead to a fourth indictment. Both Bourgeois and Brannon have been mentioned in separate courtrooms as potential state witnesses.
In fact, Peralta has taken an interest in both employees’ phone records. In January, he filed a public records request seeking text messages and emails from personal cellphones belonging to Bourgeois and Brannon, as well as Kelly Lauga, an assistant parish director of public works.
In an interview, Peralta said he later withdrew that request, but he declined to discuss what kind of information he was looking for.
Brannon is expected to testify that Peralta asked him to create a handful of phony email addresses, an allegation that may be central to the state’s case against him in St. Tammany Parish. In that case, Peralta is charged with harassing and threatening his ex-wife in emails sent “from various addresses,” including a few allegedly provided by Brannon.
Brannon did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
Reached by phone, Bourgeois declined comment and referred questions to his attorney, Alan Bouterie Jr. Bouterie, who also represents Brannon, did not return a call for comment.
A spokesman for Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office declined comment Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the St. Bernard Parish Council was scheduled to hold a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss potential suits against the parish by either Bourgeois or Brannon.
The council also was to consider overriding two vetoes that Peralta issued this month. He vetoed two ordinances passed by the council aimed at scrapping St. Bernard’s contract with a Jefferson Parish technology services firm, ParaTech LLC. The council is concerned that the company’s owner is too close to Peralta.
One ordinance called on Peralta to end the deal outright; the other stripped the money needed to pay the contract from the parish’s budget.
The council needed a vote of at least five of its seven members to override the vetoes.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.