The U.S. Department of Justice announced it has charged a former Louisiana parish coroner with conspiracy to commit theft of property from a municipal agency receiving federal funds. The charges stem from allegations made by whistleblower Laura King, who was fired from her job as the coroner’s forensic laboratory director in 2009, and her husband Terry King, a financial consultant and auditor who worked for years to compile evidence supporting his wife’s claims.
According to the Times-Picayune, St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan will be re-arraigned before U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan Wednesday, indicating he will likely plead guilty to the government’s conspiracy charges. Mr. Galvan had pleaded not guilty in his initial arraignment.
The Justice Department alleges Mr. Galvan illegally received more than $111,000 during a five-year period for unused sick and vacation time he was not entitled to. The government also charges the former Coroner with paying another employee $50,000 to fulfill a private contract he had with the Slidell jail to provide medical services. Other charges assert that Mr. Galvan conspired with another employee to use public funds for his private boat, including a generator worth nearly $10,000, and used the Coroner’s office credit card to bill the government nearly $16,000 in dining charges and other personal expenses.
If convicted, Mr. Galvan could spend up to five years in jail and pay a $250,000 fine.
Mrs. King said that the Coroner fired her in April 2009 after she refused to buy a computer with grant money designated for other purposes. She filed her civil lawsuit against Mr. Gavan in 2010, accusing him of hosting lavish parties using taxpayer money, kissing and hugging female employees, and forcing her to fill a position in the office with a white woman instead of a more qualified black man.
Mrs. King also filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Louisiana Attorney General, and the state Board of Ethics. Her allegations generated a lot of media attention, and before long Mr. and Mrs. King began experiencing a broader backlash for standing up against wrongdoing.
“It was horrible. It literally stripped us down to the core,” Mr. King told the Times-Picayune. “We lost a lot of friends …They didn’t know what we knew. And they immediately expected our intentions were not above board.”
At one point the Kings put their house on the market with the intention of starting new somewhere else, but the home never sold and the couple decided to persist. Mr. King spent about 3,000 hours putting his financial skills to use in an effort to substantiate allegations of fraud against Mr. Galvan. He fought and won a lengthy court battle to obtain the coroner’s office financial records, including seven years of credit cards and banking statements. Mr. King scoured every detail of the Coroner’s operations and shared his discoveries with state and federal law enforcement, and the media.
Mr. King told the Times-Picayune that a simple apology from Mr. Galvan for wrongfully firing Mrs. King in the beginning would have sufficed.
“We didn’t want people to go to jail,” he told the Times-Picayune. “That’s not what we intended. That’s a horrible fate for people.”
However, Mr. Galvan’s decision to deny and fight the charges while humiliating and persecuting the Kings gave them some determination to see their case out.
Mr. King has now been inundated with requests from other would-be whistleblowers in St. Tammany who need help investigating possible fraud among other public bodies and elected officials. He told the Times-Picayune that he plans to help as best as he can.
“There’s something really special about providing service to others,” he said.