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Ex-New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin takes stand in his bribery trial



By KEVIN McGILL

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told a jury Thursday that he didn't know a one-time city vendor paid for his family's vacation to Hawaii in 2004, a trip that prosecutors have cast as one of several bribes Nagin accepted in exchange for awarding city work during his two terms in office.

Nagin's testimony came a day after prosecutors rested their case, having called more than two dozen witnesses, including five who said they were involved in bribing the former mayor. Nagin's 21-count indictment accuses him of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes - including money, trips and truckloads of free granite for his family business - for helping contractors secure city business.

"If anything, Greg said he was paying for" the trip, Nagin said, referring to Greg Meffert, his former technology chief.

Meffert has pleaded guilty in the Nagin corruption case and is awaiting sentencing. He testified last week that Nagin was aware that Mark St. Pierre and his NetMethods company paid for the Hawaii trip. St. Pierre was convicted of bribery and other charges in 2011.

Nagin served as mayor from 2002 to 2010. Prosecutors allege that his corruption spanned the two terms and included the period after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, when contractors sought to benefit from potentially lucrative rebuilding jobs in the devastated city.

Defense attorney Robert Jenkins began by walking Nagin through various aspects of the government's case with testimony that, early on, touched on the Democrat's one-time image as a reformer and political outsider when he was elected to succeed Marc Morial.

Nagin outlined executive orders he issued providing for a committee to evaluate professional service contracts for the city and said he had no role in the committee's decisions.

"I wanted to avoid complaints like the previous administration had had, that you got work based on who you knew," said Nagin, who appeared calm and comfortable on the stand.

Nagin sought to put a more innocent spin on what prosecutors have tried to establish as evidence of his corruption. He accepted a free private plane ride to Chicago for a Saints playoff game in early 2007 because flights out of New Orleans were still hard to arrange in the months after Katrina hit. He insisted that no business was discussed on the private plane of Frank Fradella, nor was it discussed in Chicago.

"Everybody was excited about the Saints," Nagin said.

Nagin's indictment says the flight was a "payoff" from Fradella, who has pleaded guilty in the case and testified that he bribed Nagin with cash and free granite for a foundering Nagin family granite business, Stone Age LLC.

Stone Age also figured in the testimony of the prosecution's first witness, Rodney Williams. He told jurors when testimony began last week that he was first approached by Nagin's two sons, and later by Nagin himself, about paying the money to help support the Nagin's family-owned granite company.

While Williams said the $60,000 he paid constituted a bribe that led to more than $2 million in city business, Nagin said it was an investment made by Williams after Stone Age did high quality work on Williams' home.

Nagin was called to the stand late Thursday morning. Defense questioning and prosecution cross-examination was expected to be lengthy.

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors elicited testimony from a defense witness that executive orders issued by Nagin in 2008 and 2009 gave him more leeway to select contractors on city projects.

Brenda Hatfield, the city's chief administrative officer under Nagin, testified that she knew of no influence Nagin exerted in the awarding of contracts.

However, under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens, she read from two executive orders Nagin issued in 2008 and 2009. The first broadened his authority to approve contractors by allowing him to choose from a long list of those ranked by the committee. The second suspended the committee process altogether.

Even before the changes, Hatfield acknowledged, Nagin's final approval was needed for the contracts

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lrmarietta February 06 2014 at 5:03 PM

Others have pretty well covered how bad a mayor he was, how he made Katrina worse, and was stupidly re-elected. My question is How Can a Man Take His Family to Hawaii WITHOUT KNOWING WHO WAS PAYING FOR IT?

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buckeye3118 February 06 2014 at 6:00 PM

Yet the Katrina mess was blamed on Bush, when Nagin was given a three day warning to begin mandatory evacuations. Instead, he parked the school buses that could have been used in a place where they were stranded. I guess Nagin was too busy counting his loot.

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1 reply
katydid579 buckeye3118 February 06 2014 at 6:20 PM

Funny how you people always forget the hurricane isn't what flooded N.O., but the failed levee which the governor didn't want to spend money on to repair, in spite of knowing they needed to be repaired. Also, many people stayed because they had neither the money, nor a place to go to. Such selective memories you people have.

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Vickiey February 06 2014 at 6:16 PM

I saw where someone said something about this being made into a reality show....Willie Wonka and his amazing chocolate city...

Flag Reply +4 rate up
harry February 06 2014 at 6:17 PM

During Katrina I remember him screaming and yelling that Bush and the white people of America were all racist and had New orleans been predominaently white assistance would have been immediate. In the meanwhile he screwing everyone.. typical black politician who hates America but loves stealing and robbing. I'm so tired of black crime, black month, black TV, black whiners, and black politicians and being told how great thou art. Unfortunately if he ran for office... minorities would re-elect the creep.

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1 reply
vietnamvet1967 harry February 06 2014 at 6:22 PM

Bush got money in 4 days, how long did Obama take with NJ

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1 reply
harry vietnamvet1967 February 06 2014 at 6:50 PM

So true.. NJ and parts of NY are still devastated.

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philt6135 February 06 2014 at 6:18 PM

They will vote for him again if he gets off.

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2 replies
vietnamvet1967 philt6135 February 06 2014 at 6:21 PM

They always vote for these Moron's , that is the Democratic way

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O J Lawson philt6135 February 06 2014 at 6:34 PM

Yes they will. Why? Because they are little sheep and will do whatever they are told to do so long as the welfare checks, free housing and free cheese flows freely.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
Mary Duffy February 06 2014 at 6:18 PM

Gee, I thought it was all W's fault? To listen to the LIBS- he blew on New Orleans and then left them flat. At the time, no mention was made of the 5 days warning New Orleans proud 5th generation of welfare recipienmts had, nor that they had no place to go and no money to get there. Nagins had spent the 7 Billion Clinton gave him to shore up the levies on Casinos and patronage, but it was FEMA's fault- and Bush';s that no one could get in to help with roads, airports and rails, asll totally destroyed. Only those tiny boats finally saved the day, and that was a volunteer effort out of California paid for by Texas Money. But 'volunteer' is a dirty word to the LIBS, as is the idea of people using their money to pay to save the day. Nagins should fry!

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1 reply
thurmo66 Mary Duffy February 06 2014 at 6:24 PM

yamon

Flag Reply +2 rate up
sonnybabe59 February 06 2014 at 6:22 PM

Don't believe a word he says. They called him Ray Na-gone, cause he was never around to run his city. Does this sound familiar?

Flag Reply +13 rate up
Doug February 06 2014 at 6:23 PM

Are there any black politicians who end up in high positions who don't end up on trial for corruption?

Flag Reply +14 rate up
6 replies
lishmar February 06 2014 at 6:24 PM

This is exactly what the Essex County Executive has done. Through my five years of OPRA requests, I have learned that we, the taxpayers of Essex County, paid $5.6 million for a castle to house Joey's office, when it was appraised for $4.8 million.The sellers were donors to Joe D's campaign. Iris Presby Gardens was purchased for $1.1 million, on an appraised value of $880,000. The seller was represented by a law firm whose partner is the husband of the Chair of the Open Space Trust Fund, which group approved the sale. The Chair, is a very very good friend of the County Executive. We spent millions for landscaping, the contracts went to Joe D's donors. We have contracts in the million sto the Shauger Gorup , doing the same job the Parks Department employees can do... another big donor to both Joe D and Kevin O'Toole. There is so much more, which is why I filed the Ethics complaint against the County Executive. As a taxpayer you should be outraged as to why no one is investigating this abuse of power.

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1 reply
hotspringspark lishmar February 06 2014 at 6:27 PM

Class action seems in order. Corrupt bastards.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
elijah65elijah February 06 2014 at 6:27 PM

Where is Jesse and Al, we can't have them prosecuting this guy, this is clearly racial discrimination.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
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