Amid the post-Katrina revamping, restructuring, revitalization, and refacing of New Orleans, and its recent takeover by the Department of Justice of the New Orleans Police Department (under scrutiny by DoJ for its long-held sordid history of corruption, including alleged murders of citizens committed by NOPD police officers during the chaotic days of Hurricane Katrina), former mayor Ray Nagin is handed down a 21-count indictment of federal corruption-based charges including bribery, wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, and filing false tax returns.
Mr. Nagin, then-mayor of New Orleans during the catastrophic natural disaster known historically as Hurricane Katrina, blasted federal and state government at the time of Katrina, and thereafter, citing the sluggish response by government when his city constituency was literally under water and perishing amid a city demolished by floodwaters stemming from overrun levees, absolute uninhabitancy, and rampant lawlessness. Taken to the airwaves of media outlets, Nagin unleashed seeming disdain for the Bush Administration's slow response and ill-concern in supplying aid. Churlish-laden speeches by Nagin were replete with bitterness and verbiage unbecoming a public official, asserting his desire to rebuild the city, publicly dubbing its rebirth to be considered a "chocolate city". Nagin also publicly proclaimed that "God was mad at America" and that God has procalimed New Orleans to be a primarily-African-American populated city. In retrospect, Nagin distanced himself from those comments. Nagin was re-elected after the hurricane, in 2006, yet alienated supporters who became unsettled by his crass public comments as racially divisive.
For his part in the efficacy of aiding his constituency and getting those residents out of harms way, Nagin refuted claims he faltered his own cause. Inasmuch as buses available was a tangible asset, he failed to enact early enough by outfitting each bus with a contingency of drivers he did have on-hand, when they were still available to bus people out of the city to higher ground. His counter was that said bus drivers bailed out on him in the face of Hurricane Katrina and, thus, those unused buses became more refuse to consider post-Katrina. Questions remain as to why Nagin waited for the state and federal governments to act while he sat on his own resources.
According to federal authorities citing its investigation contents which led to a grand jury indictment, Nagin engaged in filing false tax returns, bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering.
Ironically, Nagin's political campaign platform leading to his election vowed to end "political patronage" and corruption so historically known in New Orleans. Nagin vowed to run a tight ship as Mayor of New Orleans.
A Democrat, Nagin rose from unauspicious political beginnings, formerly an executive at Cox Communications, Inc. Nagin's mayoral term concluded in 2010 stemming from term limits precluding him from running for a third consecutive term; he was succeeded by current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
According to the indictment, Nagin and his family were benefactors in that cell phones were given to his family members in exchange for favors (city contract awards); trips to Hawaii for him and his family were proffered in exchange for contract approvals; his granite business with his two sons (Stone Age LLC) gained enormous stores ("truckloads" according to the indictment) of granite supplies, again in exchange for vendors seeking city contract approval, resulting in awarding millions of dollars of city funds. Nagin, according to the federal indictment, failed to dislcose upon his tax returns for several tax years certain proceeds he earned while in office, excepting his mayoral salary.
Complicitly involved with Nagin in the corruption scheme leading to today's 21-count federal indictment are Nagin's technology official and deputy mayor under Nagin, Greg Meffert, who pleaded guilty to bribery charges and admitted taking kickbacks in exchange for directing city contracts to businessman Mark St. Pierre (convicted on all 53 counts in the kickback scheme). Additionally, the city's chief technology officer under Nagin's administration, Anthony Jones, also admitted to taking payoffs and laid out for federal prosecutors the scheme's gameboard, ultimately pleading guilty to the complicity and federal charges.
Among other city officials who were also charged and pleaded guilty are several businessmen, all of whom are said to be cooperating with the federal government and U.S attorneys prosecuting Nagin's case. Namely, Frank Fradella, who allegedly provided Nagin with copious supplies of granite (for his granite business operated by him and his two sons) and conducted wire transfers with Nagin, cooperated with the federal government and remains a figure to testify on behalf of the U.S. Attorney's office, against Nagin.
Another pivotal player in the scheme of things is Aaron Bennett, a New Orleans businessman who allegedly directed monies to New Orleans City Hall officials under the Nagin Administration, allegedly courting and/or holding government contracts for his company, Benetech. Moreover, it is alleged a myriad of conflicts of interest exist, involving Bennett and other public officials such as Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jeff Hingle. It is asserted that impropriety exists whereby Bennett engaged, via his attorney, Stephen Braud, also special counsel to Sheriff Hingle's office in 2007, to have a bid (subsequently determined to be the only bid arrangement) to manage the Plaquemines Parish jail construction, post-Katrina.
In question is why Bennett's company, Benetech, was the only bidding respondent, and received the contract. Under scrutiny is if Braud tailored the contract geared to where his private client (Bennett) would be awarded the contract, thusly affording Braud payment from Bennett via private client/attorney relationship involving government (public) funding. The Board of Ethics is investigating both Bennett and Braud, given the rancid odor of corrupt workings wafting in the air.
Outside bidding involving other contractors in a bidding process has since taken place. Remaining is the tremendous hint that Braud steered government contract work, as counsel to the sheriff's office, to the benefit of his private client, Bennett, excluding competition.
Nagin is being represented by attorney, Robert Jenkins, who has denied all charges imposed upon Nagin. Nagin's arraignment is scheduled for January 31, 2013, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles III, in New Orleans.
"Nagin used his public office and his official capacity to provide favorable treatment that benefited the business and financial interests of individuals providing him with bribery or kickback payoffs in the form of checks, cash, granite inventory, wire transfers, personal services and free travel," the indictment delineated.
Nagin sold his home in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans and currently resides in Frisco, Texas.
To view the complete indictment, reference the following case file record:
The case is U.S. v. Nagin, 13-cr-11, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
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