A federal grand jury charged former Mayor Ray Nagin Friday with 21 counts of corruption, including six counts of bribery, one count of conspiracy, one count of money laundering, nine counts of deprivation of honest services through wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns, alleging that while in office, Nagin took cash bribes and gifts from two city contractors. Nagin’s long-expected indictment arrived more than two and a half years after he left City Hall and relocated to the Dallas area.
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 charges he lined his pockets with bribe money, payoffs and gratuities while the chronically poor city struggled to recover from Hurricane Katrina’s punishing blow.
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 already has resulted in guilty pleas by two former city officials and two businessmen and a prison sentence for a former city vendor.
The two businessmen, Frank Fradella and Rodney Williams, have both pleaded guilty to paying bribes to the mayor — who was listed in earlier court documents as “Public Official A” — in exchange for the promise of city work. Both are expected to testify against Nagin if his case goes to trial.
The case also 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 election in 2002.
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.
“To go from the mandate that he was elected with to reading this indictment today and finding out that he was in many respects, if these allegations are true, a complete fraud, is eye-opening,” Rafael Goyeneche, head of the nonprofit watchdog agency the Metropolitan Crime Commission said on Friday.
In inauguration remarks May 6, 2002, Nagin promised a City Hall “where permits and licenses are provided quickly, predictably and honestly; where contracts are awarded based on what you can do, not who you know.”