ST. BERNARD PARISH -- Former St. Bernard Parish President Dave Peralta was found dead in his home by a family member Tuesday morning. He was 64.
Sheriff James Pohlmann said investigators do not suspect foul play and that Peralta’s death appears to be from natural causes.
Peralta’s death was announced by the parish government.
“President Guy McInnis, the St. Bernard Parish Council and parish government employees would like to send their condolences to his family and friends.” a statement from the parish government said.
In a tragic twist, Peralta’s 91-year-old father, Elliot Peralta, died Sunday. Peralta had been preparing for his father’s funeral Wednesday. Peralta’s next-door neighbor of 29 years, Anna Silcio, said he was heart-broken over the loss of his father.
“He cried,” she said. “He sat on my sofa and cried.”
Peralta was a former New Orleans police sergeant and St. Bernard sheriff’s major before his foray in politics.
“Dave worked for us at the Sheriff’s Office for a number of years, and he will be missed,” Sheriff Pohlmann said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and close friends during this difficult time.”
Peralta served as chief administrative officer under then-Parish President Craig Taffaro, but a bitter falling out led Taffaro to fire him in 2008. Peralta ran against his former boss in 2011 and prevailed in a runoff, winning 52 percent of the vote.
Peralta began his term by portraying himself as a reformer, but almost immediately found himself embroiled in controversy when he married parish paralegal Sharon Schaefer and gave her a $5,575-a-year raise.
Peralta’s marriage was soon rocked by personal and professional problems, some of the most embarrassing surfacing very publicly. In 2013, Schaefer was suspended from her parish job for three days for taking a photograph of an office betting pool and lodging a complaint about it.
A month later, in October 2013, Schaefer accused Peralta of rape. Peralta was later indicted on a lesser charge of sexual assault, a case that was taken over by the State Attorney General’s office when the parish district attorney recused himself. Peralta denied any wrongdoing, stating that he and his wife were merely role-playing and engaging in “rough sex.”
The sexual assault charge was just the first of many legal challenges Peralta faced over the course of his final two years in office.
He was charged with malfeasance and abuse of office in St. Bernard Parish, stalking his now ex-wife in St. Tammany Parish and using campaign funds to feed a gambling habit in a sweeping indictment out of Baton Rouge.
Despite his legal difficulties, Peralta resisted calls for him to resign from office. Peralta decried the legal entanglements as a political vendetta by the attorney general’s office and ran for re-election while still under indictment, finishing as a non-factor in fifth place.
Peralta eventually agreed to a global plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to malfeasance in office and received probation. He also admitted to ethics violation and agreed to pay a fine. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the sexual battery and stalking charges.
Despite all of Peralta’s public problems, he was remembered fondly by friends and neighbors, including Silcio.
“People have the wrong impression of Dave. Dave was a good man,” she said outside of her home as sheriff’s deputies wrapped up the scene. “It’s going to be a great loss because he’s been great to me.”