BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana attorney general’s office has
announced the arrest of the former East Feliciana Parish coroner and
her deputy in connection with a scheme aimed at allegedly defrauding
the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner’s office.
The Times-Picayune reported
that Laura DeJohn, who last served as coroner in 2016, and onetime
deputy coroner Melanie Vines were both recently booked into the East
Baton Rouge Parish Jail on charges that included “malfeasance in
office, injuring public records and criminal conspiracy.”
The 50-year-old DeJohn and Vines, 67, are accused of taking part
in a scheme where they routinely submitted false coroner emergency
certificates and billing voices to East Baton Rouge coroner's office.
Prosecutors added that DeJohn instructed Vines to conceal her
involvement in the operation because she thought it would be easier
for the payments to be processed if authorities had no knowledge of
her involvement in the process.
All the while, Vines is alleged to have been fraudulently
completing paperwork by signing DeJohn's name and using her nursing
credentials. So far, investigators have uncovered more than 20
patient records that were falsely completed.
"My office will continue to use every resource we have to
aggressively fight public corruption," Attorney General Jeff
Landry told the Louisiana Record in a statement.
Investigators also alleged that DeJohn intentionally circumvented
the state’s records-retention law by not properly keeping any
records. She served as coroner of Feliciana Parish for two years,
after taking over following the 2014 death of her husband.
"The people of Louisiana deserve a government whose officials
are held accountable for their actions," Landry said.
According to The
Advocate, Vines has since admitted that she falsified
official records in the completion of Coroner Emergency Certificates.
CECs are issued
for patients being held at medical facilities because they are
considered to a danger to themselves and the public at large. As part
of the evaluation process, a mental-health exam is administered,
which, under state law, neither DeJohn or Vines are authorized to
The Louisiana Department of Justice opened its criminal probe in
May of last year after current coroner Frederick Michael Cramer
became suspicious of some of the things he uncovered after taking
A forensic pathologist by trade, Cramer officially took over the
office after relocating to the parish just before a coroner's race
that would have pitted DeJohn against another non-physician, The
The arrests marked the second time in recent years a south
Louisiana coroner has faced criminal charges stemming from alleged
corruption while in office. Peter Galvan, a former St. Tammany Parish
coroner, was only recently released from custody after pleading
guilty to federal and state theft and corruption charges and spending
a little more than two years behind bars, the Times-Picayune
At the time of his arrest, the federal government charged that
Galvan misused his authority, including pocketing at least $111,376
over a five-year period for annual and sick leave to which he was not
entitled. He was also fingered for using taxpayer dollars to buy
meals and purchase merchandise that were in no way related to his job