As he gears up for what’s expected to be a hard-fought re-election campaign, embattled St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta will likely have to start raising more cash — and fast.
The first-term parish leader reported spending more than $35,000 in campaign money last year, according to a candidate’s report filed Feb. 12 with the state Ethics Board.
Peralta spent $35,468 of the $35,776 in campaign cash that he had on hand, leaving him with $308, according to the report that covered 2014.
So far in the campaign, Peralta’s favored dining options — aside from an $80 tab at Rocky and Carlo’s Restaurant in Chalmette for a brunch for veterans in April — are in or near casinos, according to the report.
Among his more expensive items: a $405.99 “campaign strategy meeting” May 23 at Bogart’s Steakhouse at Hollywood Casino and Resort Gulf Coast in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and a June 4 “campaign meeting” at Besh Steak at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino for the exact same amount: $405.99.
The report also included five meals at The Buffet at Harrah’s that totaled about $1,830. Four of the tickets again were for $405.99 and the fifth for $205.99. The meals began occurring in early October.
Peralta said Wednesday that the meetings included a mix of campaign advisers, strategists and others who are involved in his re-election effort. He said the expenses listed are identical in many cases because he takes money out from an ATM and then pays the difference from his own pocket.
Peralta acknowledged that his looming legal issues have pushed him to spending earlier in the campaign season than he would have liked. He said he hopes to raise $50,000 for the fall election.
“I want to know what’s going on, and I want to know what people’s feelings are,” he said about the regular campaign meetings.
The report also included three payments totaling $5,000 to his criminal defense lawyer, Martin Regan, that were made beginning in October for campaign legal services. The report also noted a $3,780.49 payment to Metairie lawyer Fran Mulhall in August for unspecified legal services on another lawsuit.
Peralta, a former New Orleans police sergeant and St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office major, has faced mounting legal issues stemming from an October 2013 incident in which his then-wife, Sharon Schaefer, has accused him of handcuffing, beating and raping her in their Meraux home. He maintains that the couple engaged in “rough sex” that day at her request; Schaefer has denied that. 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 April.
In September, a grand jury in St. Tammany Parish charged him with one count of felony stalking for allegedly harassing Schaefer. He pleaded not guilty and posted a $35,000 bond. That case is set for trial in May.
Meanwhile, a grand jury seated in St. Bernard last month is considering possible additional charges, including witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office, a source familiar with the matter told The New Orleans Advocate.
Peralta said the legal fees being paid by his campaign represent about 25 percent of his total legal bills. Some will also be paid by the parish, he said, if they concern his role as president.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.