Former New Orleans Mayor Found Guilty Of Corruption

A federal jury in New Orleans has convicted former Mayor Ray Nagin on a series of bribery and corruption charges. The Democrat led the city when Hurricane Katrina struck and oversaw the early years of rebuilding. It was during that time the government said he took tens of thousands of dollars in bribes and goods in exchange for steering city business to businessmen.

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The former mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, is guilty of bribery and other federal corruption charges. A jury convicted the Democrat yesterday on 20 of 21 counts for steering city contracts to businessmen who showered him with money and lavish gifts. NPR's Debbie Elliot reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOT, BYLINE: Ray Nagin's conviction marks the end of a chapter for a city long awaiting this moment. A throng of photographers and reporters braved the winter chill for an hour and a half after the verdict for Nagin to emerge from the federal courthouse.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We're hoping to get a comment from the former mayor of New Orleans. It does not look like he will be stopping.

ELLIOT: Nagin didn't stop, but walked away staring straight ahead. Defense attorney Robert Jenkins says Nagin is ready to appeal. He told local radio station WWL that Nagin stands by his position that he didn't commit bribery.

ROBERT JENKINS: As it relates to Mr. Nagin, I truly believe that, you know, our position that he didn't bribe anyone is correct and we're going to take the appropriate action to do so. He has sincerely said that he did not bribe anyone, he did not want to do anything else but prove that he was innocent of the alleged bribe, and that's what we did.

ELLIOT: Nagin was the face of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and in the rebuilding years after the devastating storm in 2005. The two-term Democrat took the witness stand in his own defense, fighting back testimony by former associates who said they had paid him off for favor with City Hall. Nagin argued he wasn't actively involved in city contracting decisions.

But jurors have told the New Orleans Advocate newspaper that his testimony just wasn't credible. Stephanie Grace is a political columnist for The Advocate.

STEPHANIE GRACE: I think he has more faith in his own ability to charm people and talk his way out of things than he should have.

ELLIOT: Grace says his story just didn't hold up.

GRACE: It was a strange defense. He didn't really present a different narrative. He denied everything. He said he took payments from contractors for the investments, he called them, in the family granite business. He said, oh, that was my son's business. So the fact that his sons went out and found investors who just happened to be city contractors, how about that? Who knew that could happen? That was really his attitude and it wasn't very convincing at all.

ELLIOT: Legal observers are surprised that Nagin faced trial instead of negotiating a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. So is New Orleans resident Jason Roland (ph).

JASON ROLAND: I think he should have taken a plea. I think 20 out of 21 is a pretty convincing verdict. You know, he was full of himself this whole time in office and now he got what he deserved.

ELLIOT: The verdict is vindication for Louisiana residents, says Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission of New Orleans.

RAFAEL GOYENECHE: For too long, Louisiana has been tarnished by the corrupt actions of a few public officials.

ELLIOT: Goyeneche says the Nagin case is the second most high profile public corruption prosecution since former Governor Edwin Edwards was convicted and the most significant case post-Katrina.

GOYENECHE: When the city was most vulnerable and the public needed a public servant to be looking out for them and their interests in the recovery of this community, the mayor was more focused on lining his own pockets and the pockets of his family.

ELLIOT: Ray Nagin will be sentenced in June. Debbie Elliot, NPR News, New Orleans.

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