Former N.O. Mayor Ray Nagin gets 10 years
14th July 2014 · 0 Comments
Former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, the Cox Cable executive and businessman handpicked by the business community in New Orleans to succeed term-limited New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial, was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years behind bars.
On Wednesday morning, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan sentenced Nagin, 58, to 10 years in federal prison and ordered him to pay $84,264 in restitution. He is scheduled to report to Oakdale Federal Prison — the same facility that was once home to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards and where former Congressman William Jefferson is currently serving his 13-year prison term — on Sept. 8.
The atmosphere was racially charged outside the federal courthouse Wednesday as federal prosecutors talked abut the case and Nagin supporters and critics weighed in on the case.
“What Ray Nagin did was sell his office over and over and over again,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Coman said amid protests and outbursts from veteran community activist Dyan “Mama D” French Cole, who told reporters that the federal prosecutors don’t speak for her or others in the Black community.
“The damage that Ray Nagin inflicted upon this community — to include you, Mam, to include you — is incalculable,” Coman added, directing his comments to Dyan French Cole.
“We as a community need not and should not accept public corruption,” Coman said. “This U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to combat public corruption wherever it may exist.”
“Today marks the end of a sad chapter for our city. The people of New Orleans are turning the page and moving forward,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who was defeated by Nagin in the 2006 mayoral race, said in a statement.
A federal jury on Feb. 12, 2014 convicted Nagin of 20 of 21 counts related to bribery and conspiracy charges.
Before Wednesday’s sentencing, Nagin’s wife and children said in letters to Judge Berrigan that the former businessman turned mayor was innocent. “I know for a fact that my father was railroaded to deflect attention and set an example,” Jeremy Nagin told Berrigan in a two-page, handwritten letter.
“I’m asking that you delay these sentencing proceedings until we are allowed to see all the reports that have thus far only ten summarized but clearly show a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct,” Seletha Nagin told Berrigan in a letter to the federal judge that refers to the fallout from the Nola.com posting scandal that cost former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and several of his top federal prosecutors their jobs after it was learned that the prosecutors had posted comments online about several active U.S. Department of Justice cases.
“We are mentally and financially drained,” Seletha Nagin told Judge Berrigan “We have exhausted our savings, borrowed from family, gone on public assistance (for the first time ever) and even had to file bankruptcy to avoid being homeless. We have even sold much of our furniture and all of our jewelry with the exception of our wedding rings.”
Nagin supporters who sent letters to Judge Berrigan included the Rev. Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, the Rev. Frank Davis, pastor of Bible Way Missionary Baptist Church, and longtime NAACP member Norbert Simmons.
In his letter to Judge Berrigan, Luter, the first Black president of the Southern Baptists, wrote. “We saw it on television, heard it on the radio, and read about it in our local newspapers. Hurricane Katrina affected Ray Nagin like many of us spiritually, emotionally and mentally.”
Federal prosecutors had asked Judge Berrigan to essentially throw the book at Nagin and because he demonstrated an “astounding unwillingness to accept any responsibility for his actions.”
Despite that request from the Feds, Judge Berrigan ruled that the facts of the case did not suggest that Nagin was a criminal mastermind of the bribery schemes and cover-up conspiracy, prompting her to conclude that “Mr. Nagin’s crimes were motivated in part by a deeply misguided desire to provide for those closest to him.”
There appeared to be widespread shock, disappointment and anger about the length of Nagin’s sentence. Federal prosecutors compared Nagin’s crimes to those of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. who was recently sentenced to 28 years, and former Birmingham, Ala. Mayor Larry Langford, who is serving a 15-year sentence.
Robert Jenkins, Nagin’s attorney, said his client was a first-time offender and devoted family man for whom a 20-year sentence would have amounted to a “virtual life sentence.”
“I think Ray Nagin will realize he got a break today,” FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti said. “He will be happy that he will not have to spend the rest of his life in jail.”
Rafael Goyeneche, executive director of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, told FOX 8 News that 10 years behind bars is not as light a sentence as some might think. “He’s going to be looking through prison bars for the next 120 months, and he will be thinking about the decisions that he made,” Goyeneche said.
““NOLAOIG discovered financial discrepancies when it conducted an evaluation of the City’s Crime Camera System in 2009,” Ed Quatrevaux, Inspector General for the City of New Orleans, said. “The joint FBI-NOLAOIG investigation into those discrepancies eventually led to the convictions of Greg Meffert, Mark St. Pierre, and the former mayor. NOLAOIG will continue its work to root out fraud and abuse in City operations to protect the City from those who would defraud it.”
“Ray Nagin’s sentencing brings to a close a sordid chapter in New Orleans’ history in which the man charged with leading a city out of crisis instead chose to enrich himself, his family, and friends,” Goyeneche said. “This case epitomizes the vital role the public plays in exposing corruption as information supplied by citizens through the Metropolitan Crime Commission aided the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in bringing this case to a just conclusion.”
“Our elected officials are entrusted to place the interests of the citizens above their own,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite said. “When they violate that trust and break the law, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will pursue them zealously and bring them to justice.”
Ironically, the mayor campaigned on an anti-corruption platform that catapulted him from dark-horse status to win a close election against former NOPD Supt. Richard Pennington in 2002.
One of Nagin’s first acts as mayor was to round up residents with outstanding warrants in a pre-dawn campaign, a roundup that netted one of the mayor’s young cousins who drove a cab. The handcuffed cousin’s photo made the front page of the local daily paper.
Voters bought into the mayor’s description of his role as a “change agent” at City Hall. But things began to fall apart after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city and the mayor proposed turning several hotels on Canal Street into gambling casinos to raise recovery funds. The mayor’s decision to hire disaster-recovery expert Ed Blakely also rubbed some residents the wrong way, as did Blakely’s many ill-timed quirky remarks and promises of cranes along the city’s skyline. In some voter’s minds, the final straw was Nagin’s “Chocolate City” comments, a feeble attempt by the mayor to reassure Black residents that they will always be welcome in New Orleans.
“Justice has been served for the wrongdoing committed, and this matter can finally be put behind us,” Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said Wednesday. “The biggest tragedy in this day is that it is a reminder of the corrosion of trust and misuse of power that are counter to the ideals of public service. I pray for my city, and I have supreme confidence in the people of New Orleans to move forward in a positive and productive way — with grace, perseverance and dignity. New Orleans has a history of greatness, and our future will follow in that tradition.”
“In a way, the Ray Nagin saga is a cautionary tale for Black elected officials who forget where they come from,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “Ray Nagin made the mistake of forgetting who he was and whose he was. He bought into what the other tribe was selling and ended up paying a hefty price for allowing himself to be recruited to run for mayor by the white business community, used by the business community to get certain things done at City Hall and discarded like old fish when he no longer served a purpose.
“He also bought into a false sense of invincibility and believed that he, like those who handpicked him to be mayor, was above the law.”
This article originally published in the July 14, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.