NEW ORLEANS - Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, the businessman-turned-politician who led the city in the dark days after Hurricane Katrina, is heading to federal prison for 10 years, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan announced Wednesday in front of a packed courtroom.
Nagin, 58, was ordered to report to Oakdale (La.) Federal Prison on Sept. 8 and pay $84,264 in restitution.
“Our elected officials are entrusted to place the interests of the citizens above their own,” United States Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite, Jr. said. “When they violate that trust and break the law, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will pursue them zealously and bring them to justice.”
Prosecutors, nevertheless, immediately objected to sentence, which falls well below the typical guidlines calling for 15-20 years.
“What Ray Nagin did was sell his office over and over and over again,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Coman said while being heckled outside the courthouse by Nagin supporter Dyan "Mama-D" French-Cole. “The damage that Ray Nagin inflicted upon this community — to include you mam (French-Cole), to include you — is incalculable.
“We as a community need not and should not accept public corruption. This U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to combat public corruption wherever it may exist.
"A decision to appeal will be made by the Solicitor General (Donald Verrilli) in Washington, D.C.," Coman added.
Inside the courtroom, Berrigan determined Nagin did not have leadership role in the criminal conspiracy, saying all defendants are "equally culpable."
"Mr. Nagin’s crimes were motivated in part by a deeply misguided desire to provide for those closest to him," she said.
Before announcing the sentence, Berrigan indicated she would "downwardly depart from guidelines" and that "sentencing imposed should reflect Nagin's ability to harm the public again."
Meanwhile, Nagin said he would "trust in God that this would all work out."
"I'm totally shocked by this sentence," WWL-TV legal analyst Donald 'Chick' Foret said.
Said Mayor Mitch Landrieu,“Today marks the end of a sad chapter for our city. The people of New Orleans are turning the page and moving forward."
A jury convicted Nagin Feb. 12, of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, money, free vacation trips and truckloads of free granite for his family business - from businessmen who wanted work from the city or Nagin's support for various hurricane recovery projects.
Prosecutors asked the court to send Nagin to prison for a long time. They argued that he was found guilty of 20 of 21 counts in the indictment and that he participated in and orchestrated a years-long conspiracy to enrich himself and his family.
The government also argued that Nagin spent years covering up his crimes and that his testimony during the two-week trial showed an "astounding unwillingness to accept any responsibility for his actions."
Coman compared Nagin's crimes with those of other public officials who drew stiff sentences, including former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (28 years), former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (14 years) and former Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor Larry Langford (15 years).
"Nagin's widespread and corrosive breach of the public trust - lasting through much of his tenure in office - equals even the worst of these state and local corruption cases," Coman wrote.
Nagin's defense attorney Robert Jenkins petitioned the court for a lighter sentence. He argued that his client is a first time offender with no criminal record.
Jenkins also argued that the allegations and evidence presented during the trial are a complete aberration to his otherwise outstanding life as a businessman, family member and citizen.
"Mr. Nagin has been a devoted father, husband, and supportive child to his parents, and greatly cares for the well being of his family, and is their caretaker," Jenkins wrote.
According to Jenkins, a 20-year sentence for the 58-year-old Nagin would amount to a "virtual life sentence."
Jenkins noted that former Gov. Edwin Edwards received a 10-year sentence in a public corruption scheme that netted up to $5 million dollars in ill gotten gain.
The court previously calculated Nagin's take at more than $500,000.
Nagin received several letters of support, including from members of his family. His wife Seletha asked for Nagin to remain out of jail until allegations of prosecutorial misconduct can be fully investigated.
“I am asking that you delay these sentencing proceedings until we are allowed to see all the reports that have thus far only been summarized but clearly show a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct,” Seletha Nagin wrote.
The letter by Nagin’s wife also details the family’s financial ruin and personal anguish.
“We are mentally and financially drained,” she wrote in her four-page letter dated July 1. “We have exhausted our savings, borrowed from family, gone on public assistance (for the first time ever) and even had to file bankruptcy to avoid being homeless. We have even sold much of our furniture and all of our jewelry with the exception of our wedding rings.”