Ex-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin found guilty of corruption charges

CNN

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin testifies before a US Congressional Committee on the impact of disasters on American cities, in Washington, DC, March 2010.

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by CNN

(CNN) -- Ray Nagin came into the mayor's office in New Orleans as a would-be reformer and led the city through the worst disaster of its modern history.
 
He left a federal courthouse a convict Wednesday, after a jury found him guilty of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and other favors from businessmen looking for a break from his administration. Of the 21 counts against him, he was found guilty of 20.
 
Nagin had little to say as he left the courthouse Wednesday afternoon, telling reporters only, "I maintain my innocence." A small knot of reporters yelled "Keep your head up" and "He's just a patsy," CNN affilliate WDSU reported.
 
His lead attorney, Robert Jenkins, told reporters his client would appeal the verdict.
 
"We did the best we could do," Jenkins said.
 
Prosecutors argued the 57-year-old Nagin was at the center of a kickback scheme in which he received checks, cash, wire transfers, personal services and free travel from businessmen seeking contracts and favorable treatment from the city. Several of those businessmen had already pleaded guilty to bribing the ex-mayor, who left office in 2010.
 
A January 2013 indictment detailed more than $200,000 in bribes to the mayor, and his family members allegedly received a vacation in Hawaii; first-class airfare to Jamaica; private jet travel and a limousine for New York City; and cellular phone service. In exchange, businesses that coughed up for Nagin and his family won more than $5 million in city contracts, according to the January 2013 indictment.
 
The earliest of the charges date from before Katrina, which struck when Nagin had been in office for about three years. The storm flooded more than three-fourths of low-lying New Orleans when it struck on August 29, 2005, and left more than 1,800 dead -- most of them in Louisiana.
 
Supporters credited Nagin's sometimes-profane demands for aid from Washington with helping reveal the botched federal response to the storm -- a fiasco that embarrassed the George W. Bush administration and led to billions of federal dollars being poured into Gulf Coast reconstruction efforts.
 
But the onetime cable-television executive also had his detractors: A congressional committee criticized him for delaying evacuation orders, and his frantic description of post-storm New Orleans as a violent wasteland with up to 10,000 dead turned out to be greatly exaggerated.
 
As he sought re-election in 2006, with much of the city's African-American population displaced by storm damage, Nagin was blasted for insisting that New Orleans would remain a "chocolate" city.
 
Nagin won a second term despite the controversies, but left office with his approval ratings in the cellar and told CNN his career in public office was over.
 
"I have given my pound of flesh," he said.
 
Nagin sought to have the charges dismissed in October after another federal judge blasted what he called the "grotesque" misconduct of prosecutors in the post-Katrina shootings of unarmed civilians by police at the Danziger Bridge.
 
The judge tossed out the convictions of five cashiered cops after ruling that members of the U.S. attorney's office tainted their 2011 trial by anonymously posting "egregious and inflammatory" comments at online news sites.
 

Nagin argued that he was the target of the same underground effort, citing "a continuum of pejorative statements and demeaning racial epithets" aimed at him. The U.S. attorney's office said none of the prosecutors involved in the Danziger Bridge case played a role in the Nagin investigation. 

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