Ray Nagin, Former New Orleans Mayor, Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison
By Allen M. Johnson Jr. and Campbell Robertson
NEW ORLEANS — C. Ray Nagin, the former mayor of New Orleans, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Wednesday on federal corruption charges, ending a case that began with the rebuilding of the city after Hurricane Katrina.
The sentence was less than the recommended 15 years, but Judge Ginger Berrigan of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana told the court that the evidence failed to show that Mr. Nagin had organized or had been a leader of a corruption scheme.
“Mr. Nagin claimed a much, much smaller share of the profits of the crime than any other member of the group,” Judge Berrigan said, referring to the businessmen who profited from the scheme. The judge said that Mr. Nagin’s leadership was much needed after Hurricane Katrina but that it had also been lagging.
Prosecutors objected to the sentence, a move that could set up an appeal.
Mr. Nagin, who will remain out on bond, hugged family and friends after the sentencing, and was quickly driven away from the courtroom. “I’m trusting God is going to work all this out,” he said during sentencing. The judge ordered him to report for prison no later than Sept. 8.
Reaction was swift, and mixed.
“I think that he got off lightly considering the violations of the public trust,” said Edward E. Chervenak, a political science professor at the University of New Orleans and a critic of Mr. Nagin during his eight years as mayor.
“I think he should have gotten more time,” says Michelle Alford, 37, a native of New Orleans and a hotel employee. “He did nothing to benefit the city. I think he should have gotten 20 years at least. I think it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous.”
A longtime civil rights advocate in New Orleans, Jerome Smith, said he offered Mr. Nagin words of encouragement after the sentencing. “I just let him know that he has spiritual support,” Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Nagin, a Democrat, was found guilty in February on 20 counts, most relating to kickbacks from contractors looking for city work. He was arrested in January 2013, nearly three years after he left office. He was charged with taking kickbacks in the form of cash, cross-country trips or help with the family-run granite countertop company; the bribes were handed out by men looking for city business ranging from software supplies to sidewalk repair. Many of the schemes, though not all, took place after Hurricane Katrina, when contractors crowded into the city for rebuilding work.
Many of those involved eventually pleaded guilty and testified at length against Mr. Nagin at his trial.
The corruption had been so thoroughly covered in the local news media that few people were surprised by the verdicts in February. Mr. Nagin had come into office in 2002 as a reformer from the business world and a foe of cronyism. But the city grew frustrated with his stewardship, particularly in his second term when the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina stalled and Mr. Nagin seemed unengaged. By the time he left office in 2010, many in New Orleans had moved past frustration and were simply ready to see him go.
Throughout the trial the courtroom was half-empty, except for a riveting two days when Mr. Nagin took the stand and denied everything, at times with a glib dismissal. At one point he even refused to recognize his own signature on receipts that federal prosecutors displayed on a large screen.
In a court filing urging a stiff sentence, federal prosecutors had described Mr. Nagin’s testimony as “a performance that can only be summed up by his astounding unwillingness to accept any responsibility,” and listed in detail 22 instances in which they said he had lied on the witness stand. As they had at trial, prosecutors also contrasted Mr. Nagin’s attention to detail in some of the kickback schemes with what many came to see as his lackadaisical stewardship in office.
“These repeated violations, at the expense of the citizens of New Orleans in a time when honest leadership was needed most, do not deserve leniency,” wrote Matthew M. Coman, an assistant United States attorney.
Robert Jenkins, the lawyer representing Mr. Nagin, had urged leniency, arguing that Mr. Nagin has a “completely sterling record” outside of the convictions and that the behavior described at trial is a “complete aberration to his otherwise outstanding life.”