Thursday, February 20, 2014

Nagin Awaits Sentencing, Faces Decades Behind Bars

by Maniko Barthelemy
The next time Clarence Ray Nagin enters a federal courtroom in New Orleans, he’ll find out exactly when he’ll become an inmate and lose his name for a prison issued number. A jury found the ex-New Orleans Mayor guilty of 20 out of 21 federal charges including everything from tax evasion to wire fraud, money laundering and corruption. The charges stem from a 2009 federal investigation into Nagin’s office, during his 2006 -2010 tenure as mayor. The one charge of bribery where Nagin was found not guilty centered on a $10,000 cash bribe Rodney Williams, a convicted felon, said his partners gave to Nagin’s sons, Jeremy and Jarin.
Clarence Ray Nagin leaves federal court quiet, after a jury finds him guilty of 20 out of 21 charges
Nagin, 57, stared blankly and looked detached as the verdict was read in a packed courtroom, Feb. 12. His wife, Seletha Nagin was comforted by two women, as she rocked slowly and cried. As he left the courthouse with his family members and legal team, Nagin, who as mayor was often charismatic and blunt at a podium, was silent as reporters blurted out questions about the verdict.
Nagin faces 14 to 40 years behind bars. For nearly two weeks federal prosecutors mapped out their case against Nagin through a combination of witness testimony by IRS agents, former Nagin staffers, and business associates, supported by copies of text messages, e-mails, photos and Nagin calendar discrepancies. The evidence pointed to more than $500,000 in gifts, lavish vacations, services and cash to Nagin, in exchange for illegally awarding city construction contracts worth millions to select businessmen. “He took an oath twice to serve the people but served himself,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney, Matt Coman.

Robert Jenkins, Nagin’s attorney, routinely reminded the jury the government’s star witnesses like Rodney Williams, Frank Fradella, and Michael McGrath, all of which testified they bribed Nagin, were convicted felons who only testified as part of a plea deal. “All of those guys have something to gain from the government by taking the stand against Mr. Nagin,” said Jenkins.

In a move to further convince the jury of his client’s innocence, Jenkins called Nagin to the stand. For two days, Nagin spent more than 12 hours denying all charges against him and dismissing any questionable relationships between contractors, cash flow and Stone Age, LLC, a granite business Nagin owned with his sons. While cool, calm and collected during questioning by Jenkins, Nagin became unraveled, uninterested and his demeanor at times, nearly unbelievable during cross examination. At one point, Nagin leaned back, stretched out his arms, looked at Coman and said “look man, I’m trying to give you what you want but I don’t know what you want. It’s hard for me to sit here and listen to all of these allegations.”

After the trial, jurors told media outlets, the evidence was convincing, credibility of the government’s witnesses like Fradella and Williams was questionable but Nagin had his own issues. One juror said Nagin’s testimony was unforgettable because he seemed defiant and reluctant to admit or regret anything.

Nagin is scheduled to be sentenced June 11, the day he turns 58. He’ll get a birthday present no one wants and prepare to spend several years in a place no one wants to go. Meantime, Nagin is under house arrest at his home in Dallas and must wear an ankle-monitoring device.

Nagin, a former Cox Cable executive served two terms as mayor in New Orleans. He was elected to office in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. He ran as a Democrat and promised to rid New Orleans of a long-standing embarrassing reputation of corrupt politicians. Nagin gained international fame for passionately scolding government officials, for procrastinating recovery efforts in New Orleans, during the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

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