New Orleans — Former Mayor Ray Nagin, who was elected in 2002 on promises of rooting out perceived corruption at City Hall, was indicted Friday on 21 federal charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud, bribery, money laundering and filing false tax returns while in office.
The 25-page indictment alleges that during his tenure as mayor, Nagin used his position to accept payoffs, free trips and other benefits from city contractors in exchange for their receiving work. It also claims Nagin filed false tax returns between 2005 and 2008.
Nagin faces one count of conspiracy, one count of money laundering, four counts of filing false tax returns, six counts of bribery and nine counts of wire fraud, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege Nagin, 56, accepted more than $160,000 in bribes and loads of granite for a family business in exchange for issuing millions in post-Katrina city contract work to businessman Frank Fradella.
Fradella pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to commit bribery.
Prosecutors also charged that Nagin accepted at least $60,000 in payoffs from businessman Rodney Williams and then secured several contracts for him.
Williams, who was president of Three Fold Consultants LLC, pleaded guilty early last month to a charge of conspiracy.
While many of the names in the indictment are familiar, a new, unknown player emerged Friday.
The document alleges Nagin got free private jet and limousine services to New York from “Businessman A,” who owned a movie theater in eastern New Orleans between August 2002 and May 2010. Prosecutors claim that in May 2006, Nagin agreed to waive unpaid tax penalties on a delinquent tax bill the unidentified businessman owed to the city.
Nagin is accused of accepting free travel and vacation expenses for trips to Hawaii, Chicago, Las Vegas and Jamaica from several city contractors while in office.
The alleged bribery plot, however, isn’t limited to Nagin’s tenure as mayor. Prosecutors say Nagin accepted nine payoffs from Fradella totaling $112,250 after he left office in 2010.
The same year, Greg Meffert, a former technology official 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.
Aaron Bennett, a businessman awaiting sentencing in a separate bribery case, has said he introduced Nagin to Fradella specifically to help the mayor get Home Depot granite installation work for Stone Age LLC, a business that he and his sons founded. Fradella’s company received more than $4 million in city contracts for repair work at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and in the French Quarter after Katrina, the indictment says.
Some of the allegations in the indictment have been the subject of state ethics complaints.
In April 2010, the Louisiana Board of Ethics charged Nagin with two possible violations of state ethics law. One charge involved Nagin’s “use of a credit card and/or gifts” from St. Pierre. In the other charge, the Ethics Board said Stone Age LLC, the Nagin family’s business, was compensated for installation services provided to Home Depot while the home improvement retailer was negotiating tax breaks from the city.
The indictment doesn’t mention Home Depot by name but says Nagin approved a 2007 ordinance that allowed city property to be sold to an unidentified “major retail corporation” at the same time he was soliciting the retailer for work for his granite business.
Nagin’s arraignment is set for Jan. 31 at 2 p.m. in front of Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles, according to court documents.
Email and phone messages left Friday with Robert Jenkins, Nagin’s attorney, were not immediately returned. Jenkins, however, told WWL-TV that he was surprised by the action since he believed that plea deal talks were still ongoing.
Nagin, a former executive with Cox Cable, was a political novice before he was elected to his first term as mayor in 2002, buoyed by strong support from white voters. He cast himself a reform-minded progressive who wasn’t bound by party affiliations, as he snubbed fellow Democrats.
Strong support from black voters helped Nagin win re-election in 2006, despite widespread criticism of his post-Katrina leadership. But the glacial pace of rebuilding, a surge in violent crime and the budding City Hall corruption investigation chipped away at Nagin’s popularity during his second term.
Mitch Landrieu, who ran against Nagin and lost to him in 2006, succeeded him in 2010.
Landrieu said Friday was a “sad” day for the city.
“Today’s indictment of former Mayor Ray Nagin alleges serious violations of the public’s trust,” Landrieu said in a prepared statement. “Public corruption cannot and will not be tolerated.”
Nagin, who recently sold his Gentilly home and has since moved to Frisco, Texas, a Dallas suburb, has largely steered clear of the political arena since he left office. On his Twitter account, he describes his current occupations as author, public speaker and “green energy entrepreneur.” He wrote a self-published memoir called “Katrina’s Secrets: Storms After the Storm.”
A few hours before his indictment, Nagin retweeted a post by Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen that read, “You are closest to your victory when you face the greatest opposition.”
In a prepared statement, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente said the office “will continue its history of investigating and prosecuting public corruption” in an effort to ensure citizens have “honest public officials.”
“This indictment should serve as a reminder to current and former public officials that, in the interest of full accountability, the FBI pursues corruption even after an official leaves office,” Michael Anderson, special agent in charge of the FBI New Orleans Field Office, said in a prepared statement.
The federal charges didn’t surprise many people.
“I was really disappointed in him,” said Norlita Parker Wells, a city employee. “I expected more from him. I think it’s funny only because when he was entering office he said he was going to run such a tight ship. What happened?”
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.