Nagin’s granite-countertop firm claimed losses from BP spill after it closed

Stone Age, the granite-countertop firm owned by former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and his family that is at the center of the federal corruption case against him, more or less disappeared from the local landscape in 2008.

But that didn’t stop Stone Age from filing a claim with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility after the BP oil disaster in 2010, apparently saying the leak had hurt its business.

Stone Age’s appeal to the GCCF is referenced in a motion filed Friday by federal prosecutors, who apparently think the claim is unjustified and plan to highlight it for a jury when Nagin is tried.

The trial is currently set to start Oct. 28, although Nagin has asked for it to be delayed.

The motion doesn’t say precisely how much business the Nagins claim they lost as a result of the disaster, or when they filed the claim.

The GCCF didn’t start accepting claims until August 2010.

By then, Stone Age hadn’t had a showroom for nearly two years. The firm had moved into new quarters on Palm Street in early 2008 after a fire damaged its Earhart Boulevard location.

Around the same time, amid bad publicity, Home Depot canceled the exclusive countertop installation deal Stone Age had with the chain’s four area stores — a deal that is one focus of the federal case against Nagin.

The firm filed its last annual report with the state in April 2008, and by the end of that year, the Nagins had quit paying rent at the Palm Street location. Their landlord, Harold Heidingsfelder, has said Stone Age — which had been renting equipment from him but hardly used it — cleared out by the end of that year.

The BP disaster happened about 18 months later.

‘Businessman A’ identified in motion

In the same motion that mentions Stone Age’s claim against BP, prosecutors for the first time named George Solomon, the theater owner whom they allege bribed Nagin in exchange for relief on delinquent tax and loan payments.

Previous court documents have referred to Solomon only as “Businessman A,” in keeping with federal guidelines that frown on accusing unindicted people of crimes.

His identity was initially something of a mystery because a group of businessmen was responsible for the money owed the city, all of it associated with the now-closed Grand of the East cinema complex in New Orleans East.

But sources previously have confirmed that Solomon is the businessman in question, and a recent government filing identified him indirectly, noting that the bank records of Southern Theaters, a company owned by Solomon, would be introduced at trial.

Plan on the rocks for N.O. East school

It’s been one fight after another in deciding how to spend the $2 billion that’s going into rebuilding public schools in New Orleans.

In the latest blow-up, the state-run Recovery School District, which controls most of the cash, is trying to buy an old BellSouth call center on Bundy Road near Interstate 10 for a combined elementary and high school.

But RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard acknowledged this week that community opposition has forced the district to reconsider its plans.

In an appearance before a City Council committee, Dobard started referring to the controversial plan — which has not been officially killed — in the past tense.

“We were able to not spend any additional money, and we would have served 1,000 more kids,” Dobard said, noting that the latest demographic projections show the district underestimated by about 3,000 the number of students who will need classrooms in New Orleans East over the next few years.

“The community, represented by a group out in the East, decided that they don’t want to have a school there,” Dobard continued. “But we’re still saying that the question remains unanswered: How will we serve together 3,000 more seats that will be coming online in New Orleans East?”

The group that opposed Dobard’s proposal is the Eastern New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission, an alliance of neighborhood organizations commonly known as ENONAC.

Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell told Dobard that she attended the ENONAC meeting this month where the issue came up and realized why the group was upset.

“I sat there in the meeting and I listened,” Hedge-Morrell said. “I heard that they did not embrace the idea of having elementary and high school in the same building. I think that it doesn’t really matter what part of the city you go into, that is a traditional thing, and sometimes you can’t buck the traditions of New Orleans.”

Another objection, she said, had to do with size.

The BellSouth building would accommodate almost 2,000 students.

But Hedge-Morrell, a former school principal, said, “New Orleans has never been successful with large-population schools.”

“Sometimes what happens is we get bright ideas and we can’t understand why everyone else isn’t jumping on the bandwagon,” she said. “But you’ve got to stop a minute and hear their fears and their concerns.”

Palmer opens council office on West Bank

If you live in Algiers and want to talk with City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer or her staff, there’s good news for you.

Palmer announced this week that she will open a second office, finally giving District C residents who live on the West Bank a place to drop by without crossing the Mississippi River. It’s in the Arthur Monday Center at 1111 Newton Street, in Room 106.

“Since I was elected to the council, the opening of an office in Algiers has been a goal of mine,” Palmer said. “The location of this office will ensure that I am more readily available to my constituents in all parts of the city.”

Compiled by staff writers Gordon Russell and Andrew Vanacore