NEW ORLEANS -The government wrapped up its case against former Mayor Ray Nagin Wednesday afternoon, with testimony from investigators who said Nagin lied about his dealings with contractors and moved more than half a million dollars from various personal accounts into his family business.
The day’s proceedings ended two hours early as Nagin’s attorney Robert Jenkins finished with his first defense witness.
The testimony from Bill Edwards, a former partner of Frank Fradella and Aaron Bennett, two of the people who have admitted bribing Nagin, was underwhelming. He said he generally knew little about Fradella’s contracts with the city, except that they were publicly bid. He also testified that Bennett told him the flight he provided Nagin to Chicago and Las Vegas didn’t seem to produce any business, although records clearly show that Bennett got a no-bid city deal to pay technology vendors as soon as the trip ended.
Prior to the defense beginning its case, the former head of the FBI public corruption unit in New Orleans, Dan Evans, testified that he interviewed Nagin in 2009 and asked him about trips he took to Hawaii and Jamaica. Evans said Nagin lied to him when he said nobody else paid for his trip to Jamaica because evidence later showed that St. Pierre, a city vendor, actually paid for his whole family’s first-class plane tickets.
The government also showed Nagin’s grand jury testimony under oath in which he repeatedly said he couldn’t recall some of the allegedly illicit payments. For instance, Nagin denied that Grand of the East Theatre owner George Solomon ever asked for anything from him and said, “I don’t recall,” when asked if Solomon paid for Nagin’s family to fly a private jet to New Jersey.
The government has already showed emails and used testimony to show that Solomon sought help from Nagin forgiving a tax penalty of $54,000 for the theater property, then arranged later the same day for Nagin’s whole family to fly a private jet to Teterboro, N.J. and get limo rides to and from New York City. Nagin even sent Solomon an email saying, “Thanks a bunch. You the man,” when he got confirmation the plane was arranged.
A financial analyst for the government, Josephine Beninati, created a series of charts showing how Nagin used nine different bank accounts to put $533,000 into his granite countertop business, Stone Age LLC. She used similar charts to follow the money in the government’s prosecution of St. Pierre, which proved devastating in that 2011 trial. Today, she laid out how Nagin got contractors Rodney Williams and Frank Fradella to make payments to Stone Age just when the company’s account had dipped into negative numbers.
Earlier Wednesday morning, Jenkins cross-examined IRS investigator Timothy Moore.
On Tuesday, Moore testified that Nagin claimed none of the $342,000 in gifts, bribes and improper credit card purchase that he racked up from 2005 to 2008.
Jenkins asked Moore if he had any evidence to corroborate his testimony like wire taps or video, then made a reference to one of the most famous corruption cases in recent memory, the conviction of former U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson.
Jenkins: Any money in the freezer, quote-unquote?
Moore: I have not checked any freezer.
On the stand, Moore told Jenkins that working for the federal government does not compromise his testimony.
"My job is to investigate the facts and report the facts," he said.
On re-direct questioning by prosecutor Matt Chester, the government showed the jury a series of cancelled checks, invoices and a tally detailing Nagin's alleged bribes and unreported income.
"It would not be on the list if we didn't have corroborating evidence," Moore said. "We also have several layers of review."
Later in the morning, former WWL-TV reporter Lee Zurik testified about a lawsuit filed to obtain Ray Nagin's 2008 emails and calendar.
In one document, filed as part of the lawsuit by WWL-TV, Nagin admitted he deleted all of his email on almost a daily basis and rarely archived them.
State law requires that public records be maintained for at least three years.