NEW ORLEANS (AP) — 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. On Friday, the former mayor was 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 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 charges against 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 Nagin, who had what New Orleans Magazine editor Errol Laborde called "rock star status" soon after his election in 2002.
Nagin, a former cable television executive, took office with an image as a largely apolitical businessman ready to root out corruption. "The media bought into that 100 percent. They used the term 'crackdown on corruption,'" Laborde said Friday.
But 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.
Rafael Goyeneche, head of the nonprofit watchdog agency the Metropolitan Crime Commission, remembers Nagin entering office with a call for the public to let authorities know about corruption.
"To go from the mandate that he was elected with to reading this indictment today and finding out that he was in many respects, if these allegations are true, a complete fraud, is eye-opening," Goyeneche said Friday.
In inauguration remarks May 6, 2002, Nagin promised a City Hall "where permits and licenses are provided quickly, predictably and honestly; where contracts are awarded based on what you can do, not who you know."
Soon afterward, his administration's probe into alleged corruption in taxi cab regulation resulted in numerous arrests.
"We're basically trying to send the signal ... that what has happened in the past, and the way people played in the gray areas, is no longer acceptable," Nagin said at the time. "We need to get in step with what's done in the rest of the country."
Friday's indictment accuses 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, Frank Fradella, pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to commit bribery and has been cooperating with federal authorities.
Nagin, 56, also is charged with accepting at least $60,000 in payoffs from another businessman, Rodney Williams, for his help in securing city contracts for architectural, engineering and management services work. Williams, who was president of Three Fold Consultants LLC, pleaded guilty Dec. 5 to a conspiracy charge.
The indictment also accuses Nagin — who now lives in Frisco, Texas — of getting free private jet and limousine services to New York from an unidentified businessman who owned a New Orleans movie theater. Nagin is accused of agreeing to waive tax penalties that the businessman owed to the city on a delinquent tax bill in 2006.
From several city contractors, Nagin is accused of accepting free travel and vacation expenses for trips to Hawaii, Chicago, Las Vegas and Jamaica while in office.
The alleged bribery plot isn't limited to Nagin's tenure as mayor. Prosecutors say Nagin, a Democrat, accepted monthly payoffs from Fradella totaling $112,250 after he left office.
In 2010, Greg Meffert, a former technology official and deputy mayor under Nagin, pleaded guilty to charges he took bribes and kickbacks in exchange for steering city contracts to businessman Mark St. Pierre. Anthony Jones, who served as the city's chief technology officer in Nagin's administration, also pleaded guilty to taking payoffs.
Meffert cooperated with the government in its case against St. Pierre, who was convicted in May 2011 of charges that include conspiracy, bribery and money laundering. The indictment says Nagin accepted bribes from St. Pierre, including free travel and lodging, cellphone service for relatives, and campaign funding.
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