Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his conviction on bribery, money laundering and other corruption charges. Prosecutors said the actions for which he was convicted spanned his two terms as mayor — including the chaotic years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005.
U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan handed down the sentence Wednesday morning.
Nagin was convicted Feb. 12 of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from businessmen who wanted work from the city or hoped to gain his support for various projects. The bribes came in the form of money, free vacation trips and truckloads of free granite for his family business. Nagin was alleged to have received roughly a half million dollars.
The 58-year-old Democrat had defiantly denied any wrongdoing after his 2013 indictment and during his February trial.
Until his indictment, he was perhaps best known for a widely heard radio interview in which he angrily, and sometimes profanely, asked for a stepped-up federal response in the days after levee breaches flooded most of the city during Katrina.
Nagin was a political newcomer when he won election as New Orleans' mayor, succeeding Marc Morial in 2002. He cast himself as a reformer and announced crackdowns on corruption in the city's automobile-inspection and taxi-permit programs. But federal prosecutors say his own corrupt acts began during his first term, continued through the Katrina catastrophe and flourished in his second term.
He drew notoriety for impolitic remarks, such as the racially charged "New Orleans will be chocolate again" after the city's African-American population plummeted post-Katrina, and his comment that a growing violent crime problem "keeps the New Orleans brand out there."
Moments before sentencing, a subdued Nagin made a brief statement, thanking the judge for her professionalism. He made no apologies. "I trust that God's going to work all this out," he said.
After the sentencing Nagin smiled and hugged supporters as he walked out of the courtroom with his wife, Seletha, and other family members and friends.
He is to report to the federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, in September.
Berrigan noted the serious nature of Nagin's crimes but cited several other factors in her decision to depart from sentencing guidelines that could have put him in prison for as long as 20 years.
She noted character references showing him to be a devoted son, husband and father. And she said that despite his crimes, Nagin displayed "a genuine if all too infrequent" desire to help New Orleans and its residents after the 2005 catastrophe.
Most government pre-sentence reports and recommendations were not made public, but a filing by defense attorney Robert Jenkins ahead of the sentencing hearing indicated that prosecutors were pushing for a sentence of 20 years or more under federal sentencing guidelines.
Jenkins said that would amount to a virtual life sentence for the former mayor. Jenkins said Nagin's family needs him, there is no danger of his committing more crimes and that the crimes for which he was convicted constituted an aberration from an otherwise model life.
Prosecutors said the schemes that led to Nagin's conviction included two family members: His two grown sons were never charged with a crime, but they were part of the family business that received free granite from a contractor. They also said that what Jenkins calls an "aberration" was behavior that spanned six years and involved multiple contractors.
The Associated Press