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Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin indicted on corruption charges

January 18, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • Former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin was indicted Friday on 21 counts of corruption. Nagin gained a high profile after after criticizing then-President George W. Bush for the federal government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina.
Former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin was indicted Friday on 21 counts of… (Brendan Hoffman/Getty…)

Former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, who was the combative and determined face of his city crushed beneath the floodwaters spawned by Hurricane Katrina, has been indicted on bribery and related charges, officials announced on Friday.

The charges stem from an ongoing corruption investigation of Nagin’s two terms in office beginning in 2002. Two former city officials and two businessmen have already pleaded guilty in connection with the scandal.

The businessmen, Frank Fradella and Rodney Williams, both pleaded guilty to bribing the mayor and are expected to testify against Nagin.

In papers unsealed in federal court, District Judge Ivan Lemelle read a summary of the grand jury’s findings. Nagin was charged with 21 counts of bribery, wire fraud, money laundering and filing false tax returns.

Nagin, a former cable television executive, began his first term as mayor in 2002, having been elected on an anticorruption platform with strong support from the richer, white community. The high point of his national acclaim came in the weeks after August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf of Mexico.

The killer storm, which at its peak was a Category 5 hurricane, caused levees to break, unleashing torrents of water that floodded as much as 80% of New Orleans. In all, more than 1,800 people were killed and well more than $110 billion in damage was caused. Tens of thousands of people fled the city for high ground; The term FEMA trailer -- the emergency housing supplied by the federal government in limited numbers -- became both a term of derision as well as a goal for many of the homeless.

Nagin became of the face of the city, seeking federal aid and calling for calm as National Guard troops tried to restore order, search for survivors and bring in supplies. Cleanup and rebuilding have continued to be sore political issues ever since.

Nagin began to lose white support by his second mayoral term amid complaints about the slow pace of rebuilding and new waves of crime. Among the issues was race as Nagin curried black voters, to make up for his decaying support among whites, who complained the federal government had moved too slowly especially in the poor, low-lying areas.

At one point, he asserted that that New Orleans would again become a "Chocolate City" once the poor refugees returned. He told the world that the disasters in New Orleans were caused because "God was mad at America."

Nagin later apologized for both comments.

After his reelection, reports of corruption became frequent stories in the local media, particularly the Times-Picayune.

Greg Meffert, a former technology official and high-ranking official under Nagin, pleaded guilty in 2010 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.

In the current charges, Nagin is accused of using his office for personal gain. It is alleged he accepted 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 contracts. The businessman, Fradella, pleaded guilty in June to bribery conspiracy and securities-fraud charges.

Nagin is also charged with accepting at least $60,000 in payoffs from another businessman, Williams, for other municipal contracts. Williams pleaded guilty Dec. 5 to a conspiracy charge.


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