NEW ORLEANS -- Sources tell Eyewitness News that federal prosecutors have presented Ray Nagin with what’s likely to be their best offer for a plea deal as they close in on deadlines to indict the former mayor, but Nagin isn’t budging.
“There is a statute of limitations,” said Nagin’s attorney, Robert Jenkins. “Now, whatever happens with that, that’s up to the government. But as far as this so-called quote unquote Nagin case, there’s nothing going on, there’s no case at this point."
Nagin does not appear to be in a strong negotiating position.
Sources have told us that a grand jury indictment could include upwards of 20 felony corruption counts. A plea bargain could lessen the number of counts and the prison time considerably, but the former mayor has been reticent to admit any guilt at all.
“His position has always been consistent that he’s done nothing improper,” Jenkins said.
Two sources familiar with the talks told us that the government offered to drop potential charges against Nagin’s two sons, Jeremy and Jarin – if the mayor would cop a plea.
The sons are critical pieces in the talks because they owned the granite countertop business Stone Age LLC with their father, and the family’s business activities are at the center of the case.
Frank Fradella, a former city vendor who pleaded guilty in June to conspiring to bribe Nagin, alleged that he paid the granite business owner $50,000 for false shares in the company and provided free truckloads of granite, all in exchange for favorable treatment at City Hall. Our sources have told us those granite deliveries to Stone Age were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Stone Age also got an exclusive deal to install countertops at four area Home Depot stores in 2007, shortly after Nagin offered to clear obstacles to the big box giant opening a new store in Central City.
And the government’s most compelling witness against Nagin appears to be Rodney Williams, who pleaded guilty last month to paying the countertop firm more than $72,000 in bribes for city contracts that Nagin controlled.
The sons particularly come into play here: Williams’ plea deal says he made a $10,000 cash payoff to close family members of Public Official A, and sources tell us those family members are Jeremy and Jarin Nagin.
Time is getting short because the initial $60,000 in checks from Williams to Stone Age came on January 31, 2008, and if the feds want to be able to charge Nagin with over acts related to that money, they’d have to file charges in the next two weeks. That makes an indictment this week a strong possibility if Nagin doesn’t take a deal.
But the government’s plea offer was described by one source as “harsh,” including significant prison time, and multiple sources tell us the feds were unwilling to reduce the charges drastically enough for Nagin’s liking.
WWL-TV legal analyst Chick Foret says that Jenkins, like most defense attorneys in his position, would likely seek a single conspiracy charge that encapsulates much of the alleged wrongdoing but limits his client’s possible prison time to five years.
The question is, would the mayor take it if that was the offer?
“The variable that nobody can handicap, that nobody can address at this point, is the mindset of former Mayor Nagin,” Foret said. “Because he’s the one, he’s the final decision maker. He’s the one who has to say yes, or no. And as of today, if there was a plea bargain offered, and I anticipate that there was, Mr. Nagin has said, ‘No.’ And we have to see if he changes his mind, or if that locomotive coming down the track will run over Ray Nagin when the grand jury returns its indictment.”