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THE NATION

New Orleans Cracks Down on Bribery

Crime: The new mayor says it's time for graft to end. More than 80 arrest warrants are issued in an alleged scheme involving at least two city agencies.

July 23, 2002|From Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Police began rounding up more than 80 people in an alleged bribery scheme at the city's auto inspection and taxi licensing agencies Monday as the new mayor opened a crackdown on graft in the Big Easy.

The auto inspection agency, including its three inspection stations, was shut down by the roundup that began before dawn, and authorities said they expected all 20 of the agency's employees to be implicated. Two city officials were fired, and one of them was arrested.

Eighty-four people in all--77 of them taxi drivers--were named in arrest warrants accusing them of bribery, fraud and malfeasance.

Authorities said city employees took bribes to hand out taxi permits to illegal immigrants and to overlook automobile safety violations.

Police said one of the inspectors, a nine-year veteran, told investigators that "she was trained to do it that way."

Mayor Ray Nagin said the investigation probably will reach other agencies and more arrests could be coming. The mayor, who began his job in May, said there is "hard evidence" that previous administrations knew of corruption and did nothing.

"It is very clear that this type of behavior has been going on for many, many years," Nagin said.

The city has long had a reputation as a place of excess--from food and drink to prostitution and graft. Federal prosecutors even now are investigating the relationship of bail bond companies with judges in suburban New Orleans.

Nagin's predecessor, two-term Mayor Marc Morial, was credited with cleaning up corruption and brutality in the Police Department. Former Chief Richard Pennington, who recently took the top police job in Atlanta, presided over indictments, firings and disciplinary actions against more than 350 officers.

Nagin, a former cable TV executive, said his administration is examining contracts signed in the last days of Morial's administration and the spending of federal funds. He said previous administrations had ignored problems.

"This is inexcusable and should have been taken care of long ago," he said.

"It is not leadership, it is not management. It's not anything but complicity."

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