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Ex-New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin charged with bribery

By AP | Last updated: Jan 29, 2013 - 8:35:06 AM

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NEW ORLEANS - 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. The former mayor was recently 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 Mr. 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 Jan. 18 charges against Mr. 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 case also punctuates the reversal of political and personal fortune for Mr. Nagin, who had what New Orleans Magazine editor Errol Laborde called “rock star status” soon after his election in 2002.

Mr. Nagin, a former cable television executive, took office with an image as a largely apolitical businessman ready to root out corruption.

But Mr. Nagin’s popularity and support waned in the years after Katrina. The federal investigation of his administration was mushrooming by the time he left office in 2010.

The Jan. 18 indictment accuses Mr. Nagin of accepting more than $160,000 in bribes and truckloads of free granite for his family business in exchange for promoting the interests of a local businessman who secured millions of dollars in city contract work after the 2005 hurricane.

The businessman pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to commit bribery and has been cooperating with federal authorities.

Mr. Nagin, 56, also is charged with accepting at least $60,000 in payoffs from another businessman who pleaded guilty Dec. 5 to a conspiracy charge.

Mr. Nagin’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, didn’t immediately return cellphone calls seeking comment on the indictment. No one answered the door at Mr. Nagin’s home in Texas on Jan. 18.

Katrina elevated Mr. Nagin to the national stage.

During a radio interview broadcast in the storm’s early aftermath, he angrily pleaded with federal officials to “get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans.” In January 2006, he apologized for a Martin Luther King Day speech in which he predicted New Orleans would be a “chocolate city” and asserted that “God was mad at America.”

Strong support from Black voters helped Mr. Nagin win re-election in 2006 despite widespread criticism. Mr. Nagin could not seek a third consecutive term because of term limits.