Audit report on St. Tammany Coroner's Office details old and new allegations

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wwltv.com

Posted on October 21, 2013 at 6:13 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 21 at 6:21 PM

Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
Email: arodrigue@wwltv.com | Twitter: @ashleyrwwl

MANDEVILLE, La. -- The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office has released its investigative report into the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office and former Coroner Dr. Peter Galvan.

The report details several allegations laid out in the federal bill of information filed against Galvan two Fridays ago, including personal spending by Galvan and his employees with public money, Galvan receiving improper leave pay and Galvan using Coroner’s office employees and resources to fulfill a medical care contract between his private practice and the Slidell Jail.

But new allegations include possible conflicts of interest by Galvan for leasing office space for the coroner’s office from a business partner’s company and participating in transactions during construction of the new coroner’s office with another company owned by the same business partner.

The full report can be found on the legislative auditor’s website here

If you remember, the state Legislative Auditor's Office had to sue Galvan during its investigation in order to review thousands of internal emails. Galvan fought the suit, claiming the documents were privileged.

Initially, a Baton Rouge judge ruled all but 2,000 of the emails had to be turned over. The 2,000 was set to be reviewed by the judge. Two weeks ago, that review was complete and many of the emails were turned over to the Legislative Auditor's Office, and the bill for the research, more than $30,000, was left with the coroner's office.

The Legislative Auditor’s Office says it worked closely with the FBI on its corruption investigation, which led to a charge against Galvan for conspiracy to commit theft of property and money from a municipal institution receiving federal funds.

Galvan pleaded not guilty to that charge last week, but is scheduled for a re-arraignment in the case Wednesday, when he’s expected to take a plea deal.

Meanwhile, parish leaders in St. Tammany are trying to find someone to temporarily replace Galvan.

That ‘Help Wanted’ call had only been answered by two people, officially, as of close of business Monday.

“We're getting calls both for the interim appointment and the election of the coroner, so I think we're going to get a lot of attention and a lot of applicants," said St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister.

One of those applicants is Dr. Robert Muller who practices gynecology in Slidell. Although he is interested in replacing Galvan permanently, he’s throwing his hat in the ring now in case the parish decides it can and wants to allow an interim position holder to run for the office later.

“I'm interested in the position because I did it before," Muller said. "I was the assistant coroner here in St. Tammany in late '80s and again in the late '90s. And I was a volunteer assistant coroner in New Orleans for many years."

The other name on the official list is Dr. Adrian Talbot, a family practitioner, also in Slidell. Talbot tells Eyewitness News he’s interested in helping, temporarily, in any capacity, to move the office forward and re-establish the public trust.

He said he’ll do that for free as a volunteer, as he has done at the troubled Slidell Housing Authority.

The candidates who have turned their resumes in say that what's happened in this building doesn't scare them. In fact, it’s a draw because all they want to do is help.

"What has happened, has happened,” said Muller, “And there will need to be some idea put forward toward the council since the council now will be in control of the office and I think we could very well work together."

The parish is taking applications and resumes for the interim position until next Monday. The council has 20 days from Galvan’s resignation, which was last Friday, to pick the replacement and set the date for the special election, which is expected to be in April.

In the middle of Monday developments, it was learned another executive at the coroner’s office quit.

Mark Lombard, the chief death investigator, turned in his resignation Friday, the same day Galvan did. It is believed Lombard is one of the co-conspirators mentioned in the bill of information against Galvan.

Lombard’s resignation follows the departures of CEO Melanie Comeaux and CFO Kim Kelly over the summer.

 

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