Former corruption fighting Mayor Ray Nagin was convicted Wednesday on charges of corruption, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in accepted bribes from contractors in return for sweetheart deals. Nagin, who served as New Orleans Mayor until 2010 oversaw the reconstruction of the city after Hurricane Katrina, the most devastating natural disaster to hit the region in recent memory. In Katrina’s wake, it is said that Nagin received bribes in the form of money, as well as “truckloads” of free granite for his family business.
Local businessman Frank Fradella is said to have provided the Mayor with large amounts of cash in return for securing his interests across the city. Another businessman, Rodney Williams, is also accused of paying off Nagin in return for city contracts.
The 12 person federal jury found the former mayor guilty on all but 1 of the 21 counts charged against him under federal corruption laws. Two dozen witnesses alleged that Nagin accepted first-class business trips, cash bribes, as well as material offerings in return for non-bid contracts.
Nagin is the mayor best known for his insistence that aid be brought to the ravaged city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, which left thousands homeless and claimed the lives of over 1,800 people.
Ray Nagin, A democrat who served 8 years as, claims that the witnesses provided false information and that prosecutors intentionally manipulated and misinterpreted evidence presented in the case. Presenting e-mails and calendar appointments scheduled with local businessmen who bribed him, prosecutors laid down a strong case against Nagin.
Nagin maintains that the evidence had been misconstrued in the prosecution’s favor. Nagin’s defense lawyer claims that prosecutors “overstated” the former mayor’s ability to bestow city contracts.
The charges of wire fraud, filing false tax returns, and bribery could land the former mayor some hefty prison time, with each charge carrying up to a 20 year sentence. There is no confirmation on how long of a sentence will be handed down to the former mayor.
The City Hall corruption investigation that began before Hurricane Katrina and continued until after Nagin’s tenure has been hailed as a success by prosecutors in terms of uncovering the corrupt dealings of local officials. Nagin and his defense team say that this is not a success, but rather a political witch-hunt against the former mayor who was “unaware” of the dealings between businessmen and local officials.
Testimony from Greg Meffert, a businessman who opted out for a plea deal in return for his cooperation, claims that he had helped another businessman, Mark St. Pierre, bankroll luxurious trips for the former mayor to beach resorts in Hawaii and Jamaica. Nagin maintains a plea of ignorance, saying that he did not know his vacations were being paid for by businessmen who were receiving city contracts, leaving the jurors scratching their heads. The claim of ignorance did not sway the jury who found him guilty.
Political analyst Clancy DuBos said that the story of Nagin’s rise and fall from power is “Shakespearean in proportions,” due to the former mayor’s campaign promise of being a corruption fighter. According to DuBos, Nagin was as open and as transparent as any official could be. Nagin at the beginning of his tenure as mayor of New Orleans had even invited federal investigators to City Hall to help investigate the previous administration.
Ray Nagin remains free on bond as he awaits his sentence.
By John Amaruso