Former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison Wednesday after being convicted of taking bribes in office, a striking downfall for a pol who swept into power riding an anti-corruption platform and became a national figure when Hurricane Katrina hit his city.
United States District Judge Helen G. Berrigan handed down the sentence, which also requires that Nagin, 58, pay more than $84,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.
In February, Nagin was convicted on 20 criminal counts, including bribery. He was found guilty of accepting kickbacks from city contractors before and after Katrina devastated the area in 2005. The contractors were awarded redevelopment and engineering deals with the city in exchange for money and other gifts.
First elected in 2002, Nagin, a Democrat, launched a robust anti-corruption effort shortly after taking office. He was reelected in 2006 and left office term limited in 2010.
Silas Lee, a public policy professor at Xavier University who polled for Nagin when he ran for mayor, said Nagin's fate would hardly have seemed plausible in the earliest days of his tenure, when he appeared dedicated to ridding the city of misconduct.
"There is some irony, unfortunately, attached to this in the sense that 12 years ago almost to this date, he approved a raid of the taxicab bureau," said Lee, referencing a raid that led to dozens of arrests.
Nagin, who is African American, was thrust onto the national radar when Katrina crippled New Orleans and the surrounding region in 2005. Months after the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, Nagin declared it and other storms a sign that "God is mad at America" and at black communities for "not taking care of ourselves."
Lee said that had Nagin not been convicted, "his legacy would have been that he helped steer the rebuilding of New Orleans" after the storm.
The former mayor moved to Texas and kept a low profile until the spotlight refocused on him when he was indicted last year.
"The only thing I want to say is, I want to thank you and your staff for the professionalism that you provided," Nagin told the judge Wednesday, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "As far as my role in this, we stand by the testimonies already presented."
In a statement, federal prosecutor Kenneth Allen Polite, Jr. said, “Our elected officials are entrusted to place the interests of the citizens above their own. When they violate that trust and break the law, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will pursue them zealously and bring them to justice.”
Nagin must report to prison Sept. 8.
Mark Berman contributed to this post