Interview: Nagin says he was ‘targeted’ by powerful forces

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER --  Ray Nagin, right, leaves federal court after being sentenced to 10 years Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Attorney Robert Jenkins and Nagin's wife Seletha are left and center. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Ray Nagin, right, leaves federal court after being sentenced to 10 years Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Attorney Robert Jenkins and Nagin's wife Seletha are left and center.

On the heels of his sentencing Wednesday, Former Mayor Ray Nagin told WDSU-TV that he believes he was “smeared” and “targeted” for prosecution because of unspecified positions he took after Hurricane Katrina that angered New Orleans powerbrokers.

Nagin was asked by reporter Travers Mackel what was going through his head when U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan imposed a 10-year sentence, a substantially shorter term than the 15- to 20-year term he would have received had she adhered strictly to federal sentencing guidelines.

“Well, you know, all of this is pretty surreal to me,” Nagin said. “I still maintain my innocence. We’re gonna appeal this thing. It’s just very difficult.”

When Mackel asked the former mayor to explain his fall from popular reformer to convicted felon, Nagin said he believes he is paying a price for doing what he thought was right.

“In my opinion, I’ve been targeted, I’ve been smeared, tarnished,” he said. “For some reason, some of the stances that I took after Katrina didn’t sit well with some very powerful people. So now I’m paying a price for that.”

While still professing his innocence, Nagin told WDSU that U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan treated him fairly, and he said he believes the roughly 50 letters sent to the court asking for leniency were a factor in her decision.

“I think the public outpouring absolutely had to have an effect,” he said. “I think the judge was under a lot of pressure both from the media and from the prosecutors. And I think that helped her to make a good decision.”

Asked about what issues he hopes to bring up on appeal, Nagin cited misconduct in the U.S. Attorney’s Office — an issue his lawyer, Robert Jenkins, raised in pre-trial motions that Berrigan quickly swatted down. In particular, Nagin was targeted in some of former prosecutor Sal Perricone’s most intemperate rants, though he hinted to WDSU that the full extent of the shenanigans is still unknown.

“I just think that we have problems in that U.S. Attorney’s Office,” he said. “And they’ve been well-documented. And for some reason it’s been suppressed somewhat. And I think at some point in time it’s going to come out.

“Now whether that helps me, I’m not as concerned about that. I’m more concerned about … the other people who have been convicted and are serving time for something that they didn’t do. That’s the ones that I think really need to be helped.”

While he didn’t accuse the lawyers who prosecuted him of misconduct, he portrayed them as clever manipulators of the truth.

“The prosecutors were fairly magical in their ability to take something that supposedly happened and paint it as reality when it really didn’t happen,” Nagin told the station. “I was not aware of that stuff. I was not involved in any bribes. And I think my testimony laid that out.”

Nagin has been ordered to surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons on Sept. 8. But he said he’s already gotten a taste of what the future holds.

“It’s been tough. I’m under a form of house arrest,” he said. “I can’t really do much, I can’t really travel. My freedom has pretty much been taken away.”

He expressed optimism that his legal predicament will change before he turns himself in.

“We’ll see what the future holds,” he said. “Sept. 8 is a date that’s out there now, but who knows what the future’s gonna (bring)?

Nagin has not spoken with any other media outlets. He said little in the courtroom Wednesday, thanking Berrigan for her professionalism but declining to address his crimes in any detail. He got into an SUV waiting outside the courthouse without making any additional comments.

Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter @gordonrussell1.