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Former East Feliciana coroner arrested after Investigative Unit reports

6 years 2 weeks 3 days ago Tuesday, March 14 2017 Mar 14, 2017 March 14, 2017 4:12 PM March 14, 2017 in The Investigative Unit
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE – A former East Feliciana Parish Coroner was arrested Tuesday and charged with malfeasance in office, criminal conspiracy and injuring public documents. 

Laura DeJohn, along with her former deputy coroner Melanie Vines, were booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Tuesday. The arrests follow a 10-month-long investigation by state investigators and the FBI.

DeJohn is accused of failing to maintain Louisiana's record retention law by failing to keep records during her administration. She is also accused of submitting fraudulent billing invoices for unlicensed medical services.

According to arrest records, DeJohn admitted to falsifying records in order to receive payment from the East Baton Rouge Coroner's Office. She also admitted that she did not maintain printed copies of documents.

"Whenever we can hold people accountable for wrongdoing, I think it helps a lot for our political system to help people believe there are people out there taking care of this business," Chief Deputy Attorney General Bill Stiles said.

Vines admitted to conspiring with DeJohn to falsify records. Vines said she was told to conceal her involvement, according to arrest documents.

WBRZ's Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto has reported on DeJohn multiple times. Click here to read one of the reports from April 2016. Arrest documents note that the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation opened the criminal investigation on May 5, 2016, just one week after that Investigative Report aired.

After DeJohn left office, incoming coroner, Dr. Michael Cramer, requested documents for over a 20-year period. In a five-page letter to Cramer, DeJohn's attorney said the documents did not exist.

Part of the letter reads, "The East Feliciana Parish Coroner's Office during Ms. DeJohn's tenure, where there was no secretarial help, was operated on a purely verbal basis...accordingly, no such documents exist." The letter repeatedly says DeJohn's office maintained no written records. It goes on to say records are kept at other agencies.

In April, East Baton Rouge Coroner Dr. Beau Clark said he found it hard to believe that DeJohn couldn't produce any records to the incoming coroner. Clark was able to show files were DeJohn submitted bills on East Feliciana Parish Coroner letterhead.

Clark said DeJohn tried to collect $2,200 from the EBR Coroner for work she claimed she performed on patients with mental illness, where she issued a Coroner's Emergency Certificate. Clark decided to not pay her because DeJohn was not a doctor.

CECs also known as Coroner's Emergency Certificates contain a mental health evaluation section that can only be completed by a physician, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner or psychologist. Documents note that DeJohn claimed she had received legal advice that allowed her, in the capacity of a coroner, to legally perform CECs.

Documents say Vines evaluated patients for CECs at the Eastern Louisiana Medical Health System. After completing the CECs, Vines said she intentionally concealed any reference to herself in the documents. Vines said DeJohn was not present during the CECs. Those CECs were then submitted to the EBR Coroner's Office.

Documents say between Feb. 10 to March 3, 2016, CECs for at least 24 separate patients were fraudulently completed. Many of those CECs were completed at times when DeJohn was traveling on personal out-of-state trips to Las Vegas and San Francisco.

"The real victim is the public," Stiles said "We're talking about the public fisk. The public doesn't have a whole lot of trust in their officials."

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