Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin convicted on bribery, other charges

Former New Orleans mayor C. Ray Nagin — who became the face of a desperate, drowning city during Hurricane Katrina — was convicted Wednesday on charges of accepting bribes from city contractors while in office.

Nagin, a Democrat, was found guilty by a federal jury on 20 of 21 criminal counts, including bribery, conspiracy and wire fraud. He was acquitted on one count of bribery.

Prosecutors said that Nagin accepted illegal gifts from contractors, beginning before Katrina hit and continuing afterward. Among the gifts: money, free vacation travel and truckloads of granite for Stone Age LLC, a business Nagin and his sons owned.

Nagin had moved to Frisco, Tex., after leaving office as mayor. He has been ordered to remain on home confinement, subject to electronic monitoring, while he awaits sentencing. Several of the 20 charges carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Those convictions ended a remarkable fall for Nagin, a former cable TV executive who denounced New Orleans’s culture of corruption when he ran for mayor in 2002.

Nagin was mayor when the storm hit in August 2005 and served as a kind of human metaphor for the city’s collapse. The country watched the mayor break down, just as his city did.

“They don’t have a clue what’s going on down here,” Nagin told a radio interviewer several days after the storm, expressing outrage that federal authorities had not sent enough help. “I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. . . . This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans.”

But through it all, prosecutors said, Nagin seemed to be absorbing the corrupt ethos he had promised to fight. This year in a New Orleans courtroom, they described how Nagin had taken a variety of things from contractors seeking business with the city.

In court, Nagin denied taking bribes and said instead that he had only approved contracts from low-bidding vendors, or contracts selected by a committee of others. Nagin denied the contracts were tied to the benefits given to either himself or his family business, the Associated Press reported.

Nagin left office in 2010, replaced by Mitch Landrieu (D), the brother of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). Mitch Landrieu was reelected this year to another term.

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.
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