(AP) — Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s steep descent from the days when he was seen as a fresh-faced reformer continues this week when he was sentenced to 10 years in federal court on 20 criminal charges counts including bribery, money laundering and fraud.
Defense attorney Robert Jenkins asked for leniency when Nagin — a Democrat who served from 2002-2010 — stood before U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan on Wednesday. In court papers, Jenkins says the 20-plus years sought by prosecutors amount to a “life sentence” for the 58-year-old Nagin and would deprive his teenage daughter of her father.
Prosecutors said a stiff sentence was just, given the seriousness of the crimes and Nagin’s repeated denials. They said his actions harmed the city before — and especially after — Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005.
In the ensuing months and years, Nagin’s public image took a beating, in part because of remarks such as the racially charged “New Orleans will be chocolate again” and that a burgeoning violent crime problem “keeps the New Orleans brand out there.” Proposals to aid the city’s recovery, such as opening new casinos or bottling the city’s drinking water for sale, went nowhere. And, although he won re-election in 2006, by the time he left office in 2010 his popularity had plummeted.
Nagin was convicted Feb. 12 of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes — money, free vacation trips and truckloads of free granite for his family business — from businessmen who wanted work from the city or Nagin’s support for various projects.
Prosecutors outlined more than $500,000 in ill-gotten gain that Berrigan already ruled Nagin will have to forfeit.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Coman compares Nagin’s crimes with those of other public officials who drew stiff sentences, including former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (28 years), former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (14 years) and former Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor Larry Langford (15 years).
“Nagin’s widespread and corrosive breach of the public trust — lasting through much of his tenure in office — equals even the worst of these state and local corruption cases,” Coman wrote.
Jenkins argues that Nagin had “an otherwise untainted life” apart from the crimes outlined by prosecutors and that the “extreme and excessive impact on his young family must be considered” by Berrigan.
On the streets of New Orleans, opinions varied.