NEW ORLEANS — More than a decade ago, Ray Nagin was elected mayor of New Orleans on a vow to root out corruption in a city plagued by decades of it. On Friday, the former mayor was indicted on 21 counts, including conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and money laundering, accused of lining his pockets while the chronically poor city struggled to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
The federal indictment alleges that city contractors paid Nagin more than $200,000 in bribes and subsidized his trips to Hawaii, Jamaica and other places in exchange for his help securing millions of dollars in work for the city.
The charges against Nagin are the product of a City Hall corruption investigation that has resulted in guilty pleas by two former city officials and two businessmen, and a prison sentence for a former city vendor.
While federal prosecutors have convicted a Louisiana governor, a congressman, a city councilman and members of the school board in the past 15 years alone, this is the first time in New Orleans history that a mayor has been indicted on corruption charges.
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The case punctuates the reversal of political and personal fortune for Nagin, who had what New Orleans Magazine editor Errol Laborde called “rock-star status” soon after his 2002 election.
Nagin, a former cable-television executive, took office with an image as a largely apolitical businessman ready to root out corruption. “The media bought into that 100 percent. They used the term ‘crackdown on corruption,’ ” Laborde said Friday.
But Nagin’s popularity and support waned after Katrina. The federal investigation of his administration was mushrooming by the time he left office in 2010.
Friday’s indictment accuses Nagin of accepting more than $160,000 in bribes and truckloads of free granite for his family business in exchange for promoting the interests of a local businessman who secured millions of dollars in city contract work after the 2005 hurricane. The businessman, Frank Fradella, pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to commit bribery and has been cooperating with federal authorities.
Nagin, 56, also is charged with accepting at least $60,000 in payoffs from another businessman, Rodney Williams, for his help in securing city contracts for architectural, engineering and management-services work. Williamspleaded guilty Dec. 5 to a conspiracy charge.
The indictment further accuses Nagin — who now lives in Frisco, Texas — of getting free private jet and limousine services to New York from an unidentified businessman who owned a New Orleans movie theater. Nagin is accused of agreeing to waive tax penalties that the businessman owed to the city on a delinquent tax bill in 2006.
Nagin also is accused of accepting from several city contractors free travel and vacation expenses for trips to Hawaii, Chicago, Las Vegas and Jamaica while in office.
The alleged bribery plot isn’t limited to Nagin’s tenure as mayor. Prosecutors say Nagin, a Democrat, accepted monthly payoffs from Fradella totaling $112,250 after he left office.
In 2010, Greg Meffert, a former technology official and deputy mayor under Nagin, pleaded guilty to charges he took bribes and kickbacks in exchange for steering city contracts to businessman Mark St. Pierre. Anthony Jones, who served as the city’s chief technology officer in Nagin’s administration, also pleaded guilty to taking payoffs.
Meffert cooperated with the government in its case against St. Pierre, who was convicted in May 2011 of charges that include conspiracy, bribery and money laundering. The indictment says Nagin accepted bribes from St. Pierre, including free travel and lodging, cellphone service for relatives, and campaign funding.
Nagin’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, didn’t comment Friday, nor did Nagin.
However, Jenkins called a radio talk show in the afternoon and in response to a question from the host, John McConnell, known as Spud, suggested the indictment had come as a surprise amid continuing plea negotiations. “Well, we were surprised that the indictment came today because we were still talking with the government,” he said.
If convicted, Nagin could face 20 years in prison on each of the nine wire-fraud counts alone. His arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 31.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.