Posted on October 11, 2013 at 10:11 PM
Friday, Oct 11 at 10:44 PM
Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @taniadall
ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. -- Coroner Dr. Peter Galvan was charged in federal court on Friday, accused of lining his pockets with thousands of tax dollars. The parish is now in the process of making changes that will mean more oversight over the coroner's office.
"It's kind of like a double edged sword. It's sad for St. Tammany that this has happened. I think in the bigger picture it's a good thing," said Rick Franzo, president of Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany.
After months of public outcry and a federal probe, Galvan is now facing criminal charges and could face up to five years behind bars.
In a four-page bill of information, the 54-year-old is accused of stealing nearly $200,000 in taxpayer money. The feds claim Galvan was paid for unused vacation and sick leave that he wasn't entitled to.
According to the bill of information, Galvan also used his parish credit card for lavish meals and other personal purchases.
Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany was trying to recall the coroner and the group says it had already collected 54,000 signatures.
"We saw all the records that were pulled. We know by law those are things you can't do and we were proved right at the end," said Franzo.
On Friday, afternoon Parish President Pat Brister and other parish officials held a news conference addressing the federal charges filed against Galvan.
"I think we've said all along the transparency of what we do day to day is something we owe the public," said Brister.
Since the allegations bubbled to the surface, the parish --- with the go-ahead from the state legislature --- has taken over the budget for the coroner's office.
"Now in the future, starting in January, it will be set as a budget -- as every budget in the parish is -- that's how we'll go forward," said Brister.
Parish officials confirm a budget review uncovered $1.4 million in savings that are being rolled back. Salaries within the coroner's office are also currently under review. Franzo says what's being done is a good sign. However, he'd like to see another set of eyes watch over the parish government.
"We are very much in favor of an inspector general for St. Tammany Parish where they can have access to anywhere tax dollars go," said Franzo.
The parish says Galvan has until Oct. 18 to resign. Once that happens, the deputy coroner will take over until a special election is held. Eyewitness News reached out to Galvan's attorney for comment, but he did not return our calls.