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 conduct.
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 office.
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 Advocate reported.
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 reported.
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 performance.