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Ex-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison

ray nagin trial 1He rose to prominence as the angry voice of his city during Hurricane Katrina nearly a decade ago, but former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin met his fall today in a federal courtroom in New Orleans when he was he sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges.

Nagin was found guilty in February on 20 counts of corruption, mostly stemming from seeking kickbacks from the contractors who flooded into New Orleans to rebuild after Katrina, though there were also charges of bribes before the hurricane. According to prosecutors, the bribes were offers of money, free vacation trips, and truckloads of free granite for the mayor’s family business.

Prosecutors sought a sentence of more than 20 years, citing the seriousness of the crimes and the former mayor’s repeated denials, but in the end Judge Ginger Berrigan of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana imposed a sentence of 10 years.

Nagin, 58, was arrested in January 2013, nearly three years after he left office after two terms at the helm of his city. He was the first New Orleans mayor to be charged, tried and convicted of corruption. 

Nagin’s sentence still pales in comparison to former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, 43, who received 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.

After his February guilty verdict, Nagin was confined to his home near Dallas until sentencing.

During closing arguments in Nagin’s trial, 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 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.

But there was little surprise or reaction to the guilty verdict in New Orleans, which had grown accustomed to the story.

“These repeated violations, at the expense of the citizens of New Orleans in a time when honest leadership was needed most, do not deserve leniency,” wrote Matthew M. Coman, an assistant United States attorney.

In urging leniency, Robert Jenkins, the lawyer representing Nagin, said the former mayor has a “completely sterling record” outside of the convictions, and that the behavior described at trial is a “complete aberration to his otherwise outstanding life.”

Nagin’s wife, Seletha, also sent a letter to Judge Berrigan, saying that her husband was innocent and asking the court to put off the sentencing.

“I’m asking that you delay these sentencing proceedings until we are allowed to see all the reports that have thus far only been summarized but clearly show a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct,” Seletha Nagin wrote.

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