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Jury deliberates ex-New Orleans mayor bribery case


NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The corruption case against former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, the city's chief executive when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, was in the hands of jurors Monday after prosecutors said they had presented evidence of a "mayor on the take."

Nagin's defense lawyer told jurors the case was built on the testimony of witnesses tainted by their own criminal conduct, hoping for lighter sentences from the federal government.

U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan read lengthy instructions to jurors, who then headed to a separate room to have lunch and await the delivery of documents. Deliberations began mid-afternoon.

A 21-count indictment alleges that Nagin sought and accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of bribes from people doing business with the city. Prosecutors say the bribes were in the form of money, free travel and free slabs of granite for a family business. The alleged corruption spanned his two terms as mayor from 2002-2010, and prosecutors said it flourished as the city handed out lucrative contracts after Katrina-related levee failures led to catastrophic flooding.

"You saw how a mayor on the take operates," Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens said in closing arguments, recapping testimony and evidence presented over seven days of testimony that ended Friday.

Behind him on a large white screen flashed pictures of emails, city documents, pages from Nagin's appointment calendar and newspaper articles - all used to back up testimony from more than two dozen prosecution witnesses, including five who said they were involved in bribing Nagin.

Nagin attorney Robert Jenkins attacked the credibility of key witnesses who entered plea deals with the government, some of whom are awaiting sentencing. In one case, he noted that a former investment banker, Mike McGrath, entered the court to testify in prison garb and handcuffs. McGrath had acknowledged that he could get an existing sentence reduced for an unrelated crime in New Jersey.

"SEC violations, convictions, charged with lying in a federal matter," Jenkins said, running through a list of the problems faced by one key witness, convicted businessman Frank Fradella. "This is another of their star witnesses."

Jenkins told jurors they should consider whether a given witness "had an interest or a bias to testify the way the government wanted him to testify." And he said prosecutors used misleading arguments, glossing over elements of their case that pointed to Nagin's innocence. He noted an email from Nagin to a Fradella associate seeking to do business with Stone Age LLC, the granite company Nagin and his sons owned.

"My sons will not be able to do business with you guys as long as you go after city business," Nagin said in the email, which prosecutors have cast as an attempt to avoid suspicion.

The indictment alleges the bribes were in the form of money, free travel that included vacations in Hawaii and Jamaica and free slabs of granite for the foundering family business, Stone Age.

Nagin, a Democrat, testified last week that key witnesses lied and prosecutors misinterpreted the documentary evidence He insisted that he bribed no one.

Throughout the trial, the defense repeatedly made the case that prosecutors overstated Nagin's authority to approve contracts. Nagin signed off on contracts - some of them awarded to low bidders and some the result of committee recommendations - as a matter of duty, not as a payoff, Jenkins insisted.

The charges against Nagin include one overarching conspiracy count along with six counts of bribery, nine counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy and four counts of filing false tax returns.

The charges resulted from a City Hall corruption investigation that had resulted in several convictions or guilty pleas by former Nagin associates by the time trial started, with jury selection, on Jan. 27.

Fradella and contractor Rodney Williams, both awaiting sentencing for their roles in separate bribery schemes alleged in the case, each testified that they bribed Nagin.

Nagin's former technology chief, Greg Meffert, who also is awaiting sentencing after a plea deal, told jurors he helped another businessman, Mark St. Pierre, bribe Nagin with lavish vacation trips. St. Pierre did not testify. He was convicted in the case in 2011.

Nagin said he did not know his vacation trips to Jamaica and Hawaii were paid for by St. Pierre. He also said he wasn't told that a family trip to New York was paid for by a movie theater owner who, prosecutors said, received help with a city tax issue after Katrina wiped out the theater.

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delpino777 February 11 2014 at 10:05 AM

so mayor of miami lakes , sweet water miami and homestead miami the 3 of them got arrested in the last 5 month

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bzzzbayte February 11 2014 at 9:12 AM

poor poor Ray they broke up his crooked life style. id put all the blame on the crooked Rpublicans that were there before Ray.

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countryboymt25 February 11 2014 at 9:07 AM

WOW! they are actually going to convict one of the thousands of crooked politicians running around out , leaves me wondering - Who did he piss off ?

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jdhegnes February 11 2014 at 3:29 PM

Wonder about who he didn't piss off. You'll do a whole lot less wondering.

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tom February 11 2014 at 8:42 AM

We knew this guy was rotten yrs ago. he was in office for one reason, and it wasn't because he was the best prospect for the job. The media coverage is a disgrace, the hypocrisy continues. And the libs deride Fox for asking "hard" questions, you know, the ones the alphabet lapdogs won't ask. We wonder why most of the big cities in financial messes are run by Dem's. But the uninformed and tunnnel visioned keep voting them into office. Be careful what you wish for, it might now do you any good. I'm afraid we're in too deep to recover from the damage both financially and morally. Don't get me started on the illegal discussion.

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jrgumshoe February 11 2014 at 8:53 AM

The media coverage is a disgrace? You just got finished reading a story where the Mr. Nagin is about to be sentence to a long prison term. I think the story is over.

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kkishb1999 February 11 2014 at 8:36 AM

" New Orleans was Chocolate before Katrina and will be Chocolate after Katrina." What a free kin fraud.

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H.Fleasklausner February 11 2014 at 8:34 AM

Good! They finally got him. He was always a disgrace.

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smiles41 February 11 2014 at 8:21 AM

LOL...how deep into their "fluff" can the liberals bury this Nagin corruption trial? Well, I guess one has to give this site credit for at least using the column. All the liberal media networks have totally ignored this. Where is the outrage? Where is the liberal indignity? Oh, wait...Its all about Chris Christie in NJ... This bum used his 'Chocolate city AND its "chocolate" people BIG TIME...Where is the liberal public outcry??????

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jrgumshoe February 11 2014 at 8:51 AM

Umm, excuse me, former Mayor Nagin was just tried on numerous crimes and is likely to be convicted and sentence to many years in a Federal prison. So what do you want the dems to do? It's already being handled by Federal prosecutors, the case is just about close. On the other hand, we have a governor who is trying to cover up misdeeds, a very popular governor who has strong ambitions to run for president of the United States and, at one time, was the front runner. You think dems should be ignoring the story? Are you kidding me? Whatever, buddy.

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jdhegnes February 11 2014 at 3:38 PM

It is never about right or wrong for liberals, rather whose ox is being gored. Nagin is about as dirty as someone can get, but he is their boy. Sometimes there is so much incoming, that all you can do is duck your head.

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stevendy1 February 11 2014 at 8:20 AM

this guy is a rookie when it comes to shafting the people and city..coleman young of Detroit is and was the pro. he took the 5th largest city, at the time, and totally destroyed it into what is now the slums and garbage pit of southeast Michigan...but, it will come back as the city finally elected a REAL man to bring the city back...

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ddstan1120 February 11 2014 at 8:16 AM

Whether Nagin walks or not will depend on where the jurors are from.
If they are from southern Louisiana, he will get a free pass. From anywhere else in the USA, he will end up in the pokey, where he really belings.

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jrb359 February 11 2014 at 7:43 AM

Another (D) mayor found guilty of corruption, Tony Mack of Trenton. Took bribes since his first day in office. If Democrat mayors had their way, they would all end up like Detroit! What is sad is the fact is that they get such stupid people voting for them that don't even care about their own personal interest.

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