Ray Nagin (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Rick Jervis, USA TODAY
A federal jury Wednesday convicted former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin of bribery, wire fraud and other charges, making him the first mayor in the city's 296-year history to be convicted of corruption.
The 12-person jury in New Orleans took two days to find Nagin, 57, guilty on 20 of 21 counts of federal corruption charges. During the nine-day trial, prosecutors used more than two dozen witnesses and reams of evidence to detail how Nagin accepted more than $500,000 in cash bribes and first-class trips from business leaders in exchange for lucrative city contracts.
The verdict marks the end of a tumultuous period for New Orleans, beginning with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and ending with Nagin's indictment eight years later, says Ed Chervenak, political scientist at the University of New Orleans. Nagin was the very public face of the city after federal levees failed in the wake of the storm, killing hundreds of residents and submerging much of the city.
"This is a chapter in New Orleans history that people want to close and move on," Chervenak says. "They definitely want to put the Ray Nagin years behind them."
"It's Shakespearean in its proportions," says political analyst Clancy DuBos. "This is the guy who came in as the big corruption fighter. He actually invited the feds over to City Hall to investigate the previous administration."
Nagin will remain free on bond awaiting his sentencing. He faces up to 20 years in prison for some of the charges. Nagin's wife, Seletha, sobbed in the courtroom as the somber-looking former mayor left the courtroom alone to consult with attorneys.
During the trial, prosecutors showed the jury that Nagin accepted a variety of cash and gifts from would-be contractors with the city, including a first-class trip to Jamaica, private jet travel to New York City and Chicago, money and free granite for his sons' granite countertop business. He also took direct cash payoffs totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Nagin took the stand in his own defense and rebutted the allegations. His attorney, Robert Jenkins, suggested to the jury that many of the government's witnesses were facing their own prosecutions and fabricated stories to lower their punishment.