More than a decade ago, Ray Nagin was elected mayor of New Orleans on a vow to root out corruption in a city plagued by decades of it. On Friday, the former mayor was indicted on charges he lined his pockets with bribe money, payoffs and gratuities while the chronically poor city struggled to recover from Hurricane Katrina’s punishing blow.
The federal indictment alleges that city contractors paid Nagin more than $200,000 in bribes and subsidized his trips to Hawaii, Jamaica and other places in exchange for his help securing millions of dollars in work for the city.
The charges against Nagin are the product of a city-hall corruption investigation that already has resulted in guilty pleas by two former city officials and two businessmen and a prison sentence for a former city vendor.
The case also punctuates the reversal of political and personal fortune for Nagin, who had what New Orleans Magazine editor Errol Laborde called “rock star status” soon after his election in 2002.
Nagin, a former cable- television executive, took office with an image as a largely apolitical businessman ready to root out corruption. “The media bought into that 100 percent. They used the term ‘crackdown on corruption,’” Laborde said Friday.
But Nagin’s popularity and support waned in the years after Katrina. The federal investigation of his administration was mushrooming by the time he left office in 2010.
Friday’s indictment accuses Nagin, of, among other things, accepting more than $160,000 in bribes and truckloads of free granite for his family business in exchange for promoting the interests of a local businessman who secured millions of dollars in city contract work after the 2005 hurricane. The businessman, Frank Fradella, pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to commit bribery and has been cooperating with federal authorities.