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article imageFall from grace: Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin convicted

By Yukio Strachan     Feb 13, 2014 in Crime
New Orleans - Former New Orleans mayor C. Ray Nagin — best known as the public face of the city after Hurricane Katrina — is now the face of public corruption after a federal jury found him guilty Wednesday on charges that he used his office for personal gain.
When a young cousin of Mayor Nagin was seen in handcuffs after an early-morning police raid during his first term, many believed the city had finally elected a mayor who would not tolerate corruption or illegal activity of any kind, The Louisiana Weekly newspaper said.
Now eleven years later, following six hours and 20 minutes of deliberations, a federal grand jury found Nagin guilty on 20 of 21 counts of bribery, wire fraud and tax, The Times-Picayune reported.
"Our public servants pledge to provide honest services to the people of Southeast Louisiana. We are committed to bringing any politician who violates that obligation to justice," said new United States Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite, Jr. in a statement.
A former cable television executive and part-owner of a hockey team, Nagin, who swept into office on March 2, 2002 to succeed fellow Democrat Marc Morialas promising to end corruption in city government, is the first mayor in the city's 295-year history to be charged, tried, and convicted on federal charges for corruption.
Nagin engaged in scheme and artifice to defraud
In court, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matt Coman, Richard Pickens and Matt Chester, painted a picture of a man consumed with the need for other people to pay his bills -- contractors, friends, employees and the public, reported.
According to court documents, for example, starting in December 2004 Nagin:
•Accepted approximately $72,250 in bribes masked as investments in the Nagin family Stone Age granite countertop business from consultant Rodney Williams and his company, Three Fold Consultants LLC. In exchange, Nagin directed millions of dollars of city contracts to Williams and his engineering firm.
•Received paid lodging and vacation expenses for himself and his family in Hawaii and was flown first-class to Jamaica from city technology vendor Mark St. Pierre. The vendor also hooked him up with cell phones, lawn care services, a birthday party and campaign contributions. Nagin's deputy mayor Greg Meffert, a former technology official, played middleman.
•Accepted a free $23,500 private jet vacation to New York from contractor George Solomon, co-owner of a eastern New Orleans movie theater. In return, Nagin wrote off tax penalties for the defunct movie theater and signed on to helping the theater owners collect post-Katrina insurance money.
• Pressured Home Depot to sign on with his New Orleans-based family-owned granite supply company, Stone Age LLC, to install tile for its new Central City store. In exchange, Nagin helped the store purchase city streets at rates far below market value and avoid an agreement to hire neighborhood residents at rates above the market. Nagin netted about $170,000.
• Enriched his New Orleans-based family granite supply company, Stone Age LLC, through dealings with city contractor Frank Fradella, including free granite worth $50,000 and nine payoffs in the form of wire transfers in monthly installments of $12,500 deposited into Nagin’s Stone Age corporate account after he left office totaling $112,500. In return, Nagin granted city work and offered other project endorsements to Fradella and his Home Solutions of America construction firm.
And to top things off, Nagin also filed false tax returns for the years 2005 to 2008.
"Now it's time for Ray Nagin to be held accountable for his own actions," Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Coman told jurors Monday in his closing argument.
But Nagin's attorney Robert Jenkins told the court that the government's didn't prove its case. He said the government's 26 witnesses weren't credible because of their own criminal activity and the deals they made with the federal government.
The 12-member jury didn't see it that way and sided with the government.
According to the Department of justice, Nagin, who served two four-year terms as mayor, from 2002 to 2010, and currently lives in Frisco, Tex., could face up to 20 years in prison.
Nagin's attorney said the conviction surprised him. He said his client maintained his innocence and intended to appeal, The Times-Picayune reported.
Hurricane Katrina Fame
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was found guilty on February 12  2014  on 21 counts of corruption...
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was found guilty on February 12, 2014, on 21 counts of corruption, including bribery, conspiracy, money laundering and tax evasion during the city's recovery from Hurricane Katrina in 2005
© Reuters / Jonathan Bachman
Nagin was in his first term as mayor on Monday, August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the region, thrusting him into the national spotlight. He blasted federal authorities for dragging their feet as people waited for help to arrive in the storm's aftermath.
"You know, God is looking down on all this, and if they are not doing everything in their power to save people, they are going to pay the price," the anguished mayor said in an interview with New Orleans radio station WWL-AM at the time. "I keep hearing that it's coming. This is coming, that is coming. And my answer to that today is BS, where is the beef? Because there is no beef in this city. "
But when he left office in mid-2010, it was the former mayor who was criticized on his failure to lead New Orleans' post-Katrina recovery.
"While most people were working to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina these individuals were conspiring to benefit themselves at the expense of the citizens that elected them," Gabriel L. Grchan, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation said in a statement.
"Know that we, with our federal law enforcement partners, will continue to ensure that all Americans, including public officials, are held to the same standard. No one is above the law.”
Sentencing has been set for June 11, the former mayor's 58th birthday, The Times-Picayune said.
New Orleans  After the Storm
New Orleans: Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.
Photo courtesy of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
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