Ex-New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin convicted in bribery scandal
Hurricane Katrina leader accepted bribes, free trips in exchange for securing city contracts
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was convicted Wednesday on charges that he accepted bribes, free trips and other gratuities from contractors in exchange for helping them secure millions of dollars in city work while he was in office, including right after Hurricane Katrina's devastation in 2005.
Nagin is best remembered for his impassioned pleas for help after levees broke during Katrina, flooding much of New Orleans and plunging the city into chaos.
Before the verdict, the 57-year-old Ray Nagin said outside the New Orleans courtroom: "I've been at peace with this for a long time. I'm good."
Katrina elevated Nagin to the global stage, where he gained a reputation for colourful and sometimes cringe-inducing rhetoric.
During a radio interview broadcast in the storm's early aftermath, he angrily pleaded with federal officials to "get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans." In January 2006, he apologized for a Martin Luther King Day speech in which he predicted New Orleans would become a "chocolate city" and asserted that "God was mad at America."
Strong support from black voters helped Nagin win re-election in 2006 despite widespread criticism of his post-Katrina leadership. But the glacial pace of rebuilding, a surge in violent crime and the budding City Hall corruption investigation chipped away at Nagin's popularity during his second term.
I've been at peace with this for a long time.- Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin
The Democrat, who left office in 2010 after eight years, was indicted in January 2013 on charges he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and truckloads of free granite for his family business in exchange for promoting the interests of local businessman Frank Fradella.
He also was charged with accepting thousands of dollars in in payoffs from another businessman, Rodney Williams, for his help in securing city contracts.
Nagin testified that key witnesses lied and prosecutors misinterpreted evidence including emails, checks and pages from his appointment calendar linking him to businessmen who said they bribed him.
The defence repeatedly said prosecutors overstated Nagin's authority to approve contracts. His lawyer said there is no proof money and material given to the granite business owned by Nagin and his sons was tied to city business.
Each charge carries sentence up to 20 years
The charges against Nagin included one overarching conspiracy count along with six counts of bribery, nine counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy and four counts of filing false tax returns. He was acquitted of one of the bribery counts.
Each charges carries a sentence from 3 to 20 years, but how long he would serve was unclear and will depend on a pre-sentence investigation and various sentencing guidelines. No sentencing date was set.
Prosecutors say he took hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of bribes including money, free travel and granite for Stone Age LLC, a family granite business.
They allege the corruption spanned the time before and after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.
The charges resulted from a City Hall corruption investigation that had resulted in several convictions or guilty pleas by former Nagin associates by the time trial started on Jan. 27.
Fradella and Williams, both awaiting sentencing for their roles in separate bribery schemes alleged in the case, each testified that they bribed Nagin.
Nagin's former technology chief, Greg Meffert, who also is awaiting sentencing after a plea deal, told jurors he helped another businessman, Mark St. Pierre, bribe Nagin with lavish vacation trips. St. Pierre did not testify. He was convicted in the case in 2011.
Nagin said he did not to know his vacation trips to Jamaica and Hawaii were paid for by St. Pierre. He also said he wasn't told that a family trip to New York was paid for by a movie theatre owner who, prosecutors said, received help with a city tax issue after Katrina wiped out the theatre.
Nagin, a former cable television executive, was a political novice before being elected to his first term as mayor in 2002, buoyed by strong support from white voters. He cast himself as a reform-minded progressive who wasn't bound by party affiliations.
Nagin could not seek a third consecutive term because of term limits. Mitch Landrieu, who ran against Nagin in 2006, succeeded him in 2010, becoming the city's first white mayor in decades.