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Corruption trial of ex-New Orleans mayor begins
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Declaring that corruption flourished during Ray Nagin’s two terms as mayor of New Orleans, a federal prosecutor began outlining a far-reaching, multifaceted scheme Thursday in which Nagin allegedly received money, free vacation travel and free granite for his family business- bribes worth more than $500,000 - for helping contractors receive millions of dollars’ worth of city work.
“Corruption was alive and well in this building,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Coman told jurors Thursday afternoon as a picture of New Orleans City Hall flashed on a screen behind him.
Defense lawyer Robert Jenkins countered that the work in question was awarded by public bid or through contracts in which committees played a role in selection. He promised email evidence to prove Nagin’s innocence. And he said the federal case is built on the testimony of witnesses who are not credible because of their own criminal activity and the deals they made with the federal government.
“They all have baggage. All of them,” Jenkins said, attacking the credibility of possible witnesses including businessman Frank Fradella, Nagin’s former technology chief, Greg Meffert, and Meffert’s, wife, Linda.
Nagin, a Democrat who was mayor when Hurricane Katrina stuck in 2005, served two terms before leaving office in 2010. He was living in a Dallas suburb when a federal grand jury indicted him a year ago.
Opening statements came after U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan swore in 12 jurors and four alternates for the trial in which Nagin faces 21 criminal counts. Charges include bribery, money laundering, conspiracy and filing false tax returns.
The trial began Monday with jury selection. A blast of winter weather in south Louisiana prompted cancellation of proceedings Tuesday and Wednesday.
The case resulted from a federal investigation that already has resulted in several convictions or guilty pleas by former Nagin associates, some of whom are potential witnesses in the trial.
Nagin’s 21-count indictment accuses him of accepting more than $160,000 in bribes and truckloads of free granite for his family business in exchange for promoting the interests of Fradella. Nagin also was charged with accepting at least $60,000 in payoffs from another businessman, Rodney Williams, for his help in securing city contracts.
The indictment claims Nagin received free private jet and limousine services to New York from an unidentified businessman who owned a New Orleans movie theater, identified in court Thursday as George Solomon Jr.
Nagin agreed to waive tax penalties the businessman owed to the city on a delinquent tax bill in 2006, prosecutors said.
From several city contractors, Nagin is accused of accepting free travel and vacation expenses for trips to Hawaii, Chicago, Las Vegas and Jamaica while in office.
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