Guilty. That was the verdict that came down yesterday in the federal corruption trial of former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, who was convicted on 20 counts of bribery and fraud.
Charged with 21 counts, Nagin was found guilty on all counts except one — the first New Orleans mayor to be charged, tried and convicted of corruption. Nagin’s sentencing will come on June 11, his 58th birthday.
Experts say Nagin could be facing a sentence of 20 years in prison, based on federal sentencing guidelines. It will be interesting to see how close his sentence comes to another former high-flying urban mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit. Kilpatrick, 43, got 28 years in prison after he was convicted last March of two dozen counts of racketeering and extortion. It was one of the harshest sentences ever in a state or local public corruption case.
Nagin will be confined to his home near Dallas until sentencing. After the verdict, he maintained a stoic demeanor as he walked out of the court in a media swarm and maintained his innocence. Nagin’s lawyer, Robert Jenkins, said Nagin intended to appeal.
“Our public servants pledge to provide honest services to the people of Southeast Louisiana,” said Kenneth Allen Polite Jr., the United States attorney for Louisiana’s Eastern District, in a statement after the verdict. “We are committed to bringing any politician who violates that obligation to justice.”
During his closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens said, “You saw how a mayor on the take operates.”
The prosecution called two dozen witnesses, including five who admitted they had bribed Nagin.
The federal government was tasked with proving that Nagin benefited from bribery and kickbacks, allegedly receiving checks, cash, wire transfers, personal services and free travel from businessmen seeking contracts and favorable treatment from the city.
Nagin came to national attention in 2005, when he tried to get federal help for his city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a saga that thoroughly embarrassed President George W. Bush and his administration.
The feds accused Nagin of taking more than $200,000 in bribes, while his family members allegedly received a vacation in Hawaii; first-class airfare to Jamaica; private jet travel and a limousine for New York City; and cellular phone service.
Prosecutors alleged that the businesses that provided this largesse to Nagin and his family won more than $5 million in city contracts.
When he took the stand during the seven-day trial, Nagin, who left office in 2010, calmly accused the prosecutors’ key witnesses of lying and the prosecutors of misinterpreting the evidence because he hadn’t bribed anyone.
Nagin’s defense repeatedly said Nagin didn’t have the authority to approve contracts. The defense attorney said the prosecution had no proof that money and material given to the granite business owned by Nagin and his sons were tied to city business.