[StBernard] Former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro sues current President Dave Peralta

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Fri Nov 9 21:39:32 EST 2012

Former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro sues current President
Dave Peralta
By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro has sued current Parish
President Dave Peralta, along with other parish employees, accusing them of
conspiring to defame him. His suit states they engaged in "creating bogus
accusations which were leaked to print and broadcast media ... and
repeatedly providing Taffaro's employer, the Jindal Administration, with
false and bogus accusations of wrongdoings."

The federal suit -- to read the full suit, click here -- filed on Thursday
asks for no less than $2.75 million in damages and claims that Peralta and
other parish employees have violated Taffaro's civil rights, his career
rights and have intentionally inflicted emotional distress. It states a raid
of Taffaro's storage unit last month "was the culmination of a pattern of
retaliation by Peralta against Taffaro because Taffaro fired Peralta as CAO
in October, 2008, and because Taffaro campaigned against Peralta in 2011."

Taffaro's suit claims that Peralta and others have engaged in "a year of
systematic harassment" against him.

The search warrant -- to read the full search warrant, click here -- that
led to the seizure of the files stated that the documents were needed in the
ongoing discovery phase of a long-running housing discrimination case,
spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Justice, over Taffaro's and parish
government's repeated attempts to limit affordable multi-family and rental

"In response to the inquiry regarding litigation filed by Craig Taffaro, I
have not been served with any lawsuit and thus cannot comment on it at this

Taffaro left office on Dec. 15, after losing a brutal re-election campaign.
He is now the head of Gov. Bobby Jindal's hazard mitigation office.

Taffaro claims that he left his position as president "in order to assume a
sensitive position in the Jindal Aminidstration... a position which can
ill-afford controversy and negative publicity."

Danny Bourgeois, who is the parish recovery manager and was Peralta's
campaign manager, is one of the additional parities listed in the suit. The
suit claims Bourgeois was one of several people who entered Taffaro's
storage unit on Oct. 23 and also claims that Bourgeois used the anonymous
email moniker, policeofficer123 at ymail.com, to send a tip about the search
warrant to The Times-Picayune on Oct. 24.

The suit claims that policeofficer123 at ymail.com also sent an email to the
Louisiana Division of Administration, where Taffaro is employed as the
state's Director of the State Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and Recovery
Coordination. He claims the emails provided "details that could only have
been known that early by one of the perpetrators."

The suit also claims that in March 2012 Bourgeois leaked "substantially
bogus accusations'' to the Times-Picayune regarding credit card expenses
during Taffaro's tenure as president.

A Times-Picayune review of parish credit card records earlier this year
showed that taxpayer money was spent on bicycle supplies, marathons and
numerous meals and travel under Taffaro. The day after the newspaper story
on the credit card abuses appeared, the state attorney general's office
picked up copies of all Taffaro administration credit card records.

Later, an audit completed for the parish this summer by Jeremy Thibodeaux,
an accountant with Ericksen, Krentel & LaPorte of New Orleans, noted many of
the expenses "appeared to be of a personal nature that were not timely
reimbursed by the Parish President."

The Times-Picayune obtained the credit card records through public
information requests to the parish government office.

Taffaro also accuses Bourgeois of providing a police report to media outlets
in May that described how Taffaro allegedly punched a driver on April 30.
Taffaro claims that Bourgeois allegedly send the police report using the
moniker officer_police at ymail.com.

Taffaro became parish president on Jan. 8, 2008, at which time Peralta was
the parish Chief Administrative Office. Peralta continued in that role for
several months until Taffaro fired him.

In his suit, Taffaro claims he fired Peralta "for insubordination and
dereliction of duties, motivating Peralta to announce his intent to
retaliate and to engage in a pattern of harassment."

When Taffaro took office in January 2008, Peralta and Taffaro described each
other as longtime friends, but Taffaro eventually asked him to resign.
Peralta refused, and Taffaro fired him. During the campaign last fall,
Taffaro said he fired Peralta because Peralta was incompetent. Peralta
countered that Taffaro was a thin-skinned micromanager

The suit also contends that Peralta fired employees who did not vote for

As for the recent seizure of documents from his storage unit, Taffaro claims
that parish attorney William McGoey disclosed information to parish
employees based on a conversation McGoey had with Taffaro that should have
been confidential, and that information from that conversation was used
illegally to obtain the search warrant.

Taffaro claims that McGoey sent him an email request for the parish files on
Oct. 17 under the subject heading "Urgent Missing files." Taffaro states
that he called McGoey several times but that McHoey's voicemail "was always
full" and that "none of the calls made October 22 were returned."

The search warrant states that the warrant was requested by St. Bernard
Sheriff's Sgt. Jarrod Gourgues. While technically a sheriff's employee,
Gourgues officially handles Peralta's internal security and the parish
government reimburses the Sheriff's Office for Gourgues' salary. Taffaro
names Gourgues as another party in suit.

The application for the search warrant, approved by a state judge on Oct.
23, states that McGoey spoke with Taffaro on Oct. 18 and told him that "the
judge was demanding files."

"During that conversation Mr. Taffaro admitted that he had indeed removed
(government) files from the government building," Gourgues wrote in the
warrant application.

Taffaro claims that Gourgues took three boxes before the search warrant was
issued and 19 boxes afterwards. The three boxes allegedly came from the
storage facility manager's own storage unit, which she had held there after
Taffaro left the boxes behind in a previous move.

The suit includes a transcript of an alleged conversation between Peralta
and Sheriff Jimmy Pohlmann about 7 p.m. Oct. 23. Taffaro's attorney, Henry
Klein, said on Friday that the conversation is an account that came from two
sources who directly heard it. Klein said he sent the transcript to a third
person in parish government who verified it. Klein would not say who the
sources were.

"I just wanted to give you a 'heads up,' we just executed a warrant on
Taffaro's storage unit," Peralta said, according to the alleged transcript
in the court record.

"Who is 'we'?" Pohlman allegedly responded.

Peralta: "Jarrod and I."

Pohlmann: "My employee?"

Peralta: "Yeah."

Pohlmann: "Of my sheriff's department?"

Peralta: "Yeah."

Pohlmann declined to comment on Friday afternoon. He said that as one of his
employees, Gourgues, is named in the suit that he will review the matter
with Sheriff's Office attorneys.

Klein has said the documents were not originals and that Taffaro had every
right to keep them for reference in ongoing litigation against his
administration. Klein said after the seizure that Taffaro had "attempted to
call St. Bernard Parish and provide them with some documentation that the
parish already had... but they would not talk to him and instead they sent
this goon squad to his storage bin."

"St. Bernard Parish continues to run its business like a third world country
--- this is like guerrilla warfare," Klein added in a conversation with a
Times-Picayune reporter in the days after that seizure.

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