(Courtesy of Rick Jervis, USA TODAY)
NEW ORLEANS – Ray Nagin, former New Orleans mayor and the public face of the battered city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, has been indicted by a grand jury on 21 federal corruption charges.
The indictment, released Friday, alleges Nagin awarded lucrative city contracts to
contractors in exchange for more than $200,000 in kickbacks and first-class trips to Hawaii, Jamaica and Las Vegas.
Nagin, 56, served two four-year terms as mayor, from 2002 to 2010, and currently lives in Frisco, Tex., outside Dallas. If convicted on all charges, he faces more than 15 years in prison. Nagin becomes the first mayor in the city’s 295-year history to be indicted under federal corruption charges.
Nagin could not be reached at phone numbers listed at his Frisco address. He’s due in federal court Jan. 31 to be arraigned by a federal magistrate.
“This is a sad day for the city of New Orleans,” current Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement. “Today’s indictment of former Mayor Ray Nagin alleges serious violations of the public’s trust. Public corruption cannot and will not be tolerated.”
The charges stem from a City Hall corruption investigation that already has resulted in
guilty pleas by two former city officials and two businessmen.
The indictment alleges that, between 2005 and 2008, Nagin:
– Accepted more than $70,000 in bribes from a consultant who later won more than a
dozen public works contracts with the city.
– Received paid lodging and vacation expenses for himself and his family in Hawaii and was flown first-class to Jamaica by a city contractor.
– Accepted a free private jet trip to Chicago and Las Vegas from another contractor.
– Enriched his New Orleans-based family granite supply company through dealings with the city.
“This indictment should serve as a reminder to current and former public officials that … the FBI pursues corruption even after an official leaves office,” said Michael Anderson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office.
New Orleanians will be most angered by the fact that Nagin’s alleged corrupt activities were taking place as the city struggled to rebuild from the worst catastrophe in city history, said Terrence Fitzmorris, a Tulane University history professor.
“It’s a betrayal,” Fitzmorris said. “He’s doing this while the city was at its lowest point.”
A former cable television executive, Nagin was swept into office in 2002 with promises of transforming the city through business savvy and corruption fighting.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 thrust him into the national spotlight, where he often lambasted federal agencies for not doing enough in the storm’s aftermath but was also criticized for a perception of not doing enough as a leader in time of crisis.
In January 2006, he apologized for a Martin Luther King Day speech in which he predicted New Orleans would be a “chocolate city” and asserted that “God was mad at America.”
Strong support from black voters helped Nagin win re-election in 2006 despite mounting criticism of his post-Katrina leadership. But the glacial pace of rebuilding, a surge in violent crime and the budding City Hall corruption investigation chipped away at Nagin’s popularity during his second term.
Nagin could not seek a third consecutive term because of term limits. Mitch Landrieu, who ran against Nagin in 2006, succeeded him in 2010.
Contributing: Associated Press and nola.com