Grand jury probes Peralta appointee's overlapping parish jobs

A state grand jury investigating St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta is also looking at the work hours claimed by a Peralta appointee who held two taxpayer funded jobs at the same time.

CHALMETTE, La. – A state grand jury investigating St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta is also looking at the work hours claimed by a Peralta appointee who held two taxpayer funded jobs at the same time.

Two grand jury subpoenas provided to WWL-TV by the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office show that the state Attorney General is reviewing time sheets and sign-in and sign-out times for Jarrod Gourgues, covering the six-month period when Gourgues was both the parish's Road Department superintendent and a part-time sergeant in the sheriff's office.

Gourgues is tied closely to the embattled Peralta, who is himself a former St. Bernard deputy and a retired New Orleans police officer. When he took office in January 2012, one of Peralta's first moves was to have then-Sheriff Jack Stephens assign Gourgues as Peralta's personal deputy.

In addition to driving Peralta to events and providing security, Gourgues ran internal investigations of parish government staff, Peralta said. And on Oct. 23, 2012, Peralta directed Gourgues to raid the personal storage unit of the prior parish president, Craig Taffaro.

The raid caused a media firestorm, and Taffaro sued Peralta and Gourgues. Peralta acknowledged that he ordered Gourgues to get a search warrant unilaterally, without the knowledge of the new sheriff, Jimmy Pohlmann, although he was within his rights to do so.

Not happy about the raid, Pohlmann reassigned Gourgues to the Traffic Division less than two weeks later, on Nov. 5, 2012, and less than three weeks after that Gourgues resigned from the force. He was immediately hired by Peralta as assistant Road Department superintendent.

Peralta said he hired Gourgues, who owns several businesses, because of his experience with heavy equipment and construction. Seven months in, Peralta promoted Gourgues to superintendent and has approved a 22-percent hike in his salary in three years.

"He has done this type of work for a long time and could be vital to my operations in the Road Department," Peralta said. "I had confidence in him then and I have confidence in him now."

But new questions about Gourgues' employment started when he was re-hired as a part-time deputy last October. He was making $67,320 a year to work five days a week as road superintendent and $17.60 an hour in the sheriff's Traffic Division, usually putting in eight hours a day for three or four days a week.

Pohlmann declined to comment on Gourgues' employment or say why he was rehired. The sheriff said he couldn't discuss it because those issues are the subject of a "very active criminal investigation."

But using public records requests, WWL-TV received detailed records of the hours Gourgues claimed to work for both government agencies. From Oct. 24, when the former full-time deputy rejoined the sheriff's force part-time, until his last resignation June 8, Gourgues claimed to have worked 87 days in both capacities.

On all but 10 of those days, time-clock records show his work time at both jobs overlapping. WWL-TV tallied the total overlap at 90 hours and 37 minutes, an average of more than an hour every time he worked both jobs in the same day.

Generally, records show he would work a morning shift at the Road Department, starting at 6:15 or 6:30 and punching out some time between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., but would call in on-duty as a sheriff's deputy usually between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

On a few occasions, he claimed to have worked a morning shift on both jobs. On Tuesday, March 10, for example, sheriff's call logs show he called in "10-8" or "in-service" at the Sheriff's Office at 6:05 a.m. Ten minutes later, he used a hand reader to punch in at the Road Department and stayed on the clock in both jobs for 6 hours and 24 minutes.

Gourgues' attorney, Mike Magner, said his client "expressly and unequivocally denies any wrongdoing." He said he's "one of the hardest working men in local government" who works a flexible schedule as Road Department superintendent and often puts in extra hours on nights and weekends that don't get recorded.

When asked about March 10 and two other, similar examples, Magner said that "with some frequency" Gourgues would be on his way to work at the Road Department and see an incident that required his attention as a deputy in the Traffic Division. Magner said that would activate a computerized "in-service" report that could have made it look like he was on duty as a cop when he wasn't.

However, detailed call logs show Gourgues responding to actual calls-for-service as a sheriff's deputy during the morning hours, both on Nov. 11 and March 10 and on many of the days with overlaps.

"If WWL's analysis reflects a 90-hour overlap on Jarrod's time, it is more than offset by his overtime, night and weekend emergency work, uncompensated lunch hours and officially sanctioned gym time," Magner said.

Salaried employees often don't mark their exact hours, but ever since Jan. 20, Gourgues and all of the managers in Peralta's government, including Peralta himself, have been punching in and out of work using computerized hand scanners.

"Traditionally, you don't make salaried employees punch time clocks," Peralta said. "I felt that I had always said from the day I ran for this office that I wanted transparency and I wanted openness. It was my decision that everyone, from myself down, would start utilizing the new time-clock system that we have."

He said it creates very precise reports, which could spell trouble for Gourgues.

"If there was an overlap, yes, it would be a problem," Peralta told WWL-TV in an interview.

Since using the hand scanner, Gourgues has rarely logged more than eight hours in a day with the Road Department. Magner, Gourgues' attorney, said that's because his client often worked at night dealing with issues in the field, where he could not access the time-clock hand scanner, and that's why his off-schedule hours don't show up in the reports.

Rafael Goyeneche, head of the nonprofit watchdog group Metropolitan Crime Commission, said it is perfectly legal to have two public jobs, as long as one is part-time. But, he said, the grand jury subpoenas indicate that prosecutors are checking for overlapping hours that could indicate pay for work that wasn't done.

"The question becomes, is it illegal? Because you physically cannot be working for two different entities at the same time," Goyeneche said.

The grand jury subpoenas regarding Gourgues are part of the state attorney general's public corruption case against Peralta, which has been in front of a St. Bernard grand jury since January. Peralta was already indicted in St. Bernard for sexual battery, based on his ex-wife Sharon Schaefer's rape accusations, but prosecutors withdrew those charges.

Peralta has also been indicted by two other grand juries, in Baton Rouge for campaign finance violations and perjury, and in St. Tammany Parish on charges of stalking his ex-wife.

Magner said Gourgues is being unfairly singled out because of the state's pursuit of Peralta. Magner also said it was a violation of state law to put secret grand jury subpoenas in the public record and they should not have been released to WWL-TV.

Goyeneche said any effort to prosecute Gourgues for the overlapping hours would depend on the parish's employment rules.

"So he's a supervisor and he's on a salary, so you need to take a look at their rules and regulations to see if they would support a prosecution of that," he said.

And as controversy swirls around him, Peralta is standing by his man.

"I want to speak with Mr. Gourgues and I want to hear his explanation," Peralta said last week. "If anybody knows how it is to be accused of something he didn't do, I sure know that now, don't I?"

After the interview, Peralta said he reached out to Gourgues, who he said was out of town on vacation. But the parish president declined to comment further after WWL-TV informed him about the grand jury investigation.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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