Investigators with the state Attorney General’s Office executed a search warrant Friday at the home and government offices of St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta, who was indicted by a grand jury in April on a charge of sexual battery against his then-wife, Sharon Schaefer.
A three-page search warrant for the St. Bernard government complex, signed by state District Judge Kirk Vaughn, indicates authorities believe they have evidence of witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and malfeasance in office, though it gives no further details.
The warrant gave investigators authority to seize computers, electronic storage devices and cellphones capable of sending email, as well as any email communications and documents pertaining to Schaefer.
Laura Gerdes Colligan, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, would say only that the investigators were executing a search warrant in the parish but wouldn’t confirm it was at Peralta’s office or his home on Newport Drive in Meraux.
Neighbors, however, reported that unmarked vehicles arrived at his home and that Peralta was present when investigators showed up. The St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office also was involved.
Derrick Richard, who lives nearby, said he saw several vehicles outside Peralta’s house by about 7 a.m., reckoning the search lasted at least three hours. The agents carried as many as six large brown envelopes out of Peralta’s house and also searched his government vehicle, Richard said.
In all, investigators seized six work computers from the president’s office, as well as two personal computers from his home and his cellphone.
The warrant is likely related to the ongoing criminal case against the first-term parish leader, who is embroiled in a bitter divorce case that has played out in public for much of the past year.
Schaefer accused her ex-husband in October of handcuffing, beating and raping her in their Meraux home. Peralta maintains the couple engaged in “rough sex” at her request, but Schaefer has denied that assertion, saying the couple weren’t even on speaking terms at the time of the alleged rape.
St. Bernard District Attorney Jack Rowley recused his office in late December, handing the case to Caldwell’s office.
A state grand jury indicted Peralta in April on a charge that he sexually battered Schaefer. He was not indicted for rape. He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment earlier this month.
Meanwhile, both Peralta and Schaefer have been under court orders not to contact each other as a part of their divorce, which was finalized last month.
But Schaefer has accused Peralta of violating that order. She included 17 pages of emails in the court record earlier this month and said the exchanges had given her “significant distress, fear and anxiety.”
Almost all of the emails were sent from America Online accounts, including one address that Peralta has previously used to email reporters.
“First of all, I hope you are doing well,” begins a June 13 email with the subject line “Dumplin,” signed “Dave.”
Peralta now faces a contempt hearing Aug. 4 to determine whether he violated a restraining order.
At the same time, retired Judge Frank Foil, appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court as an ad hoc judge to hear the criminal case after all five judges in the Chalmette courthouse recused themselves, issued a gag order last month preventing attorneys, the defendant, the alleged victim or any witnesses from making public comments about the proceedings.
Peralta, standing at the door of his Meraux home, declined comment Friday, citing the gag order. His attorney, Stephen London, also declined comment.
Staff writer Jim Mustian contributed to this report. Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.