Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin found guilty of corruption

He was the face of a city begging for help after Hurricane Katrina - now he is facing 20 years in prison

The former mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, who first won office on a pledge to clean up City Hall and who later became the face of a city begging for help after Hurricane Katrina, is approaching the end of a journey of humiliation and disgrace, convicted by a jury of peers and facing up to twenty years in prison.

Even in the sometimes septic swill of New Orleans politics, Nagin, a Democrat, has set himself apart becoming the first mayor, serving or otherwise, to be found guilty of federal crimes.  Instead of rooting out the corrupt practices that for long had been business as usual in the corridors of government, he succumbed to them, concluding that enriching himself was easier than crusading.

As his wife cried in the court gallery, Nagin listened calmly as the jury at his trial on Wednesday found him guilty of 20 of the 21 charges against him including bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. He was found not guilty of one count of bribery. He is to be sentenced in June.

Prosecutors at the two-week trial, which saw Nagin himself taking the stand in his own defence, had contended that starting even before the 2005 hurricane and for a good time during the city’s recovery, the mayor pocketed bribes and kickbacks to the tune of $500,000 in return for smoothing the way for local businesses bidding for lucrative supply and construction contracts with the city.

The goodies he received, prosecutors said, ranged from trips to Manhattan, Chicago, Hawaii and Jamaica to free cell phone service and cash payments channeled through Stone Age LLC, a granite countertop company he owned with his sons, who were not charged in the case. Sometimes they came in the form of lorries loaded with free granite slab for the company.

“He was using the power and authority of his office as leverage on city business to exact payoffs,” Assistant US Attorney Richard Pickens said during closing arguments on Monday. “He defrauded the citizens of New Orleans.”

Now ordered to remain under electronic monitoring at home pending sentencing, Nagin indicated only his disappointment. “I maintain my innocence,” he said as he left the courthouse. His conviction brought to an end a wide-ranging FBI investigation of his two-term administration which has already seen seven other contractors and officials convicted of participating in the kick-back scams or entering guilty plea deals.

Nagin once cut a figure of ebullience and swagger. When first elected in 2002, he was a political upstart after a career as a television cable executive. Wearied by corruption scandals in government and their police department, residents of the city saw him as a man with the energy and clear thinking to set it right.

He also had a reputation for clear speaking that was never more evident than in the days after Katrina that inundated 80 per cent of New Orleans and killed roughly 1,800 people. “You got to be kidding me, this is a national disaster, get every doggone Greyhound bus-line in the country, and get their assess moving to New Orleans,” he vented as he struggled to get the rest of the country to pay attention to what was happening. “They don’t have a clue what’s going on down here... I need reinforcements, I need troops, man.”

He was also capable of stirring unnecessarily controversy as when he hit back at suggestions that his city post-Katrina would have a lower concentration of African-Americans versus whites, which indeed happened. “This city will be chocolate at the end of the day,” he declared.  “It’s time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be, a chocolate New Orleans.”

While the federal response to Katrina was a fiasco and became one of the enduring scars on the legacy of George W. Bush, the mayor also saw his popularity progressively plummet amid the painfully slow pace of recovery.  By the time he left after his second term, when investigators were already eyeing allegations of graft in his administration, his public approval ratings had hit the basement.

After the verdicts, Robert Jenkins, the lead defence lawyer for the former mayor, vowed to appeal saying only, “We did the best we could.” The prosecution had built a case in part on the compelling testimony of businessmen who said they had been directly solicited for money and favours in return for deals with the city. Among them Rodney Williams, owner of a construction consultancy, was asked the true nature of roughly $60,000 he had made in payments to Stone Age. “It was a bribe,” he said flatly.

Some recalled words Nagin offered in 2003 as he was first getting into his stride as the city’s new mayor and his numbers were high. “When we took office, we wanted to make sure we reset the rules of the game,” he said. “One of the first things we did was say corruption is no longer going to be tolerated.”

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Year 2 Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Bognor Regis!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Year 2 Teacher currently need...

Data Analyst / Marketing Database Analyst

£24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits