Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, who portrayed himself as a straight-talking anti-politician determined to clean up the city’s notoriously corrupt culture, was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison for bribery, money laundering and other corruption during his two terms.
Nagin, 58, made himself the public face of misery and suffering during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, exploding at federal and state officials in a profanity-laced radio rant at the height of the city’s flooding. But he was convicted Feb. 12 of using his office to enrich himself with bribes from businessmen seeking his help – much of it for Katrina rebuilding.
During his federal trial, Nagin vigorously denied charges that he accepted money, free vacations and truckloads of free granite for his family business. Just before he was sentenced in court Wednesday, he declined to apologize but said, "I trust that God’s going to work all this out."
U.S. District Court Judge Helen Berrigan said she deviated from sentencing guidelines that recommended at least 15 years in prison because, in part, she did not view him as the leader or primary beneficiary of the bribery scheme.
"Mr. Nagin claimed a much, much smaller share of the profits in this conspiracy," than businessmen who received millions of dollars in city contracts, the judge said. Prosecutors said Nagin raked in roughly half a million dollars.
On the witness stand during his trial, Nagin breezily denied the charges. In a sentencing memo, prosecutors described "a performance that can only be summed up by his astounding unwillingness to accept any responsibility" for his crimes.
On Wednesday, Nagin walked out of court arm in arm with his wife, Seletha, alternately grim-faced and smiling as he hugged supporters. He is to report to federal prison in Oakdale, La., in September.
As the black mayor of a city whose black population was devastated by Katrina, Nagin was viewed as a staunch defender of the poor and working class. But like many Louisiana politicians before him, he was undone by his direct role in the very corruption he professed to abhor.
Nagin was a former communications company executive and political unknown when he rallied support from whites and the business community to win the mayor’s office in 2002. He won re-election in 2006 with a campaign built on concerns by black voters that they were being shortchanged during the city’s post-Katrina recovery.
Nagin’s speaking style could charitably be described as informal, if not freewheeling. He said after Katrina that "New Orleans will be chocolate again." He noted that the city’s reputation for violent crime "keeps the New Orleans brand out there."
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