David Peralta was led away from the St. Bernard Parish Courthouse on Tuesday, handcuffed and surrounded by deputies, after being hit with his fourth indictment in a year and a half.
And more might be in the offing.
The St. Bernard Parish president faces 22 new counts handed down by a grand jury in Chalmette on allegations ranging from forcing employees to help him stalk his ex-wife and pressuring them for campaign donations to taking kickbacks on a technology contract.
While jurors have been considering many of the charges for months, officials with the state Attorney General’s Office said some of the incidents date back just a week and more charges may be coming as investigators dig further.
“This is still under investigation. We need to do a little more work, and there are other related parties we’re looking into,” Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell said after the grand jury’s report was read out. He referred to Peralta’s actions as a criminal “spree.”
In all, the indictment charges Peralta with 11 counts of malfeasance in office, six counts of abuse of office, three counts of obstruction of justice and one count each of extortion and stalking.
Indicted alongside Peralta was one of his appointees, Jarrod Gourgues, who faces counts of theft, malfeasance in office and perjury.
Prosecutors allege Gourgues, who worked in both the parish’s roads department and as a part-time deputy in the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office, double-dipped by being on the clock for both agencies at the same time and also made money from a company that did business with the parish.
Trial dates have not been set for either man.
Waiting for a grand jury’s report was hardly new for Peralta, who has been the subject of numerous criminal investigations and charges since October 2013, when his then-wife, Sharon Schaefer, accused him of handcuffing, beating and raping her.
That incident led to a sexual battery case in St. Bernard, which eventually was dropped, plus stalking charges that are pending in St. Tammany Parish. A third indictment against Peralta, accusing him of gambling with money from his campaign war chest at Gulf Coast casinos and lying about it, was handed down by a grand jury in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Peralta was held Tuesday on a $110,000 bail — $5,000 on each count against him — though his attorney, Martin Regan, said he expected the parish president to bond out Tuesday evening.
Caldwell and other prosecutors had sought a $1 million bail, saying a string of indictments like those facing Peralta would land a typical defendant behind bars while awaiting trial.
The Parish Council was meeting Tuesday night and was expected to vote on a resolution calling on Peralta to resign. Asked about that, Regan said it was the Parish Council that should step down.
The most recent indictment focuses heavily on Peralta’s actions in the aftermath of his divorce, when it says he used parish equipment, including phones, computers and a mobile Internet hot spot, to harass and stalk his ex-wife.
He also is accused of stalking her, improperly participating in her supervision while she was an employee of the parish and extorting her. Early this year, prosecutors introduced evidence that Peralta had threatened to post online more than 300 sexually explicit photos of his wife .
The indictment also lays out allegations that Peralta used strong-arm tactics against parish employees to force them to aid him in his stalking, divorce and criminal cases and to further his political career. Employees were ordered to look up information about Schaefer and to drive by homes where she was believed to be staying to see if she was there, according to the indictment.
It says others were coerced into posting pseudonymous comments on the website nola.com, attacking Peralta’s political opponents, or pressured into misleading law enforcement or testifying in a civil case, presumably his divorce.
Peralta also is accused of deleting emails to attempt to obstruct the investigation. The parish’s human resources director was made to turn over a list of employees Peralta hit up for campaign donations as recently as last week, the indictment says.
Prosecutors have said little about an allegation that Peralta received “a monetary loan, services and/or other items of value from Richard Perniciaro” or his company, Paratech. That firm provides technology services to the parish and recently was a flashpoint in a battle between the Parish Council and Peralta.
Caldwell said Tuesday that investigators are still digging into that relationship and he expects the grand jury will meet again to consider additional information connected with that charge.
Finally, the indictment charges Peralta with abusing his office by firing two employees after they cooperated with investigators.
In anticipation of the indictment, Peralta’s attorney, Regan, early Tuesday released affidavits signed by Peralta that accuse one of the fired employees, parish Technology Director Jeffrey Brannon, of downloading pirated software onto a parish computer that could put all the computers at risk, failing to properly secure the parish’s computer network — something Peralta said could put the parish at risk of terrorist attack — and spying on emails from public accounts belonging to Peralta and other parish employees.
The affidavit dealing with the other employee, Donnie Bourgeois, accuses him of payroll fraud, failing to provide documents FEMA required to reimburse the parish for $340,000 in payroll and using a parish vehicle for campaign purposes after he met with Councilman Guy McInnis, who is one of several candidates running against Peralta in this fall’s election for parish president. McInnis said the meeting took place only so Bourgeois could drop off some documents.
Regan said he has 12 witnesses and two computer experts who would be able to prove Peralta’s version of events. He also claimed many of the harassing emails attributed to Peralta in the indictment were actually sent by Brannon.
Gourgues, the other man indicted Tuesday, allegedly profited from companies that were doing business with the parish and, as uncovered in a WWL-TV report on Monday, clocked at least 77 hours where he was supposedly working both for the parish government and for the Sheriff’s Office.
Michael Magner, Gourgues’ attorney, described him as “an innocent man caught up in a vendetta against his boss David Peralta. When the elephants fight, the ants get nervous.”
Gourgues “had a flexible schedule as a salaried employee of the parish and routinely worked nights and weekends for which he was never compensated above his salary,” Magner said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.