NEW ORLEANS - Former Mayor Ray Nagin and his then-chief technology officer Greg Meffert freely spent on trips, parties and more on credit cards provided by Mark St. Pierre, a man whose companies recieved lucrative city contracts, including a deal to provide crime cameras, Meffert testified Friday.
St. Pierre is currently serving a 17-year sentence after being convicted of 53 felony counts in 2011.
Meffert, who was believed to be a close friend and confidante of Nagin's, pleaded guilty himself in 2010 to taking $860,000 in kickbacks from St. Pierre, in exchange for getting St. Pierre millions in no-bid City Hall work.
Meffert began his testimony by saying that a 2004 executive order issued by Nagin allowed the former mayor to hire who he wanted without sending contracts out for bid. He then detailed how that deal brought perks to both himself and Nagin.
Meffert said St. Pierre wrote a $38,000 check to Meffert's wife to book a house in Maui for a trip with the Nagin family.
Meffert said he is sure Nagin knew that St. Pierre paid for the luxurious trip because he made sure "St. Pierre got credit for it," (with Nagin).
Meffert also testified that Nagin knew exactly who paid for a family trip to Jamaica shortly after Katrina. He said Nagin and he used Blackberries to discuss sensitive issues so they wouldn't become public.
Asked about what Nagin knew about St. Pierre’s company paying for the Jamaica trip, Meffert said: “I left the (NetMethods) card with Pat Smith, Mr. Nagin’s secretary. When I came back there was a problem with the travel agency that the card didn’t match the people on the flight. So the secretary told me they had to explain why somebody else paying, so I just left it there overnight. Then the Mayor said everything was ironed out with the travel agency and I took my card back.”
However, the government was able to retrieve the actual Blackberries in question and retrieve a few of the messages between Meffert and Nagin. Among the messages was one where Nagin advised Meffert not to deal with businessman Aaron Bennett because he talked too much, including to then-TP investigative reporter Gordon Russell.
There was also a message where Nagin was excited after finding out that Meffert had scored some tickets to the Saints' 2007 NFC Championship game.
"You the man, and has always been my undercover brother."
After Gordon Russell exposed the plane trip to Chicago and Las Vegas in 2007, and after texting back and forth with Meffert about whether Aaron Bennett could be trusted, Nagin sent the following email to Bennett:
“Nope. Not interested. My sons will not be able to do business with you guys as long as you go after city business.”
But Meffert said that was just a cover in a public email so the mayor could make it look like he was following proper conduct with city contractors.
“That formal email came in and then there were all the PINS going back and forth trying to decide what to do. I interpreted this at the very end as their cover for this,” Meffert said.
“The messages between mayor and myself doesn’t send that message at all. We were both concerned about Aaron’s recklessness. The messages in between clearly contemplated going ahead with the business itself, just taking Aaron out of the mix.”
Meffert further stated that he tried to get a roofer to fix Nagin's roof, but that the contractor was spooked when he found out that St. Pierre's company would pay for it. Another time a $1,080 charge on a St. Pierre credit card went for liquor for Nagin's 50th birthday party.
Prior to Meffert's testimony, the morning began with the defense's cross-examination of Rodney Williams.
Williams had testified Thursday that he paid Nagin in cash and gifts in exchange for millions in lucrative government contracts.
Seeking to counter that, Nagin's attorney Robert Jenkins centered his questions on Williams' need to please the government with his testimony in exchange for his plea deal.
WIlliams pleaded guilty in 2012.
Jenkins got Williams to admit that he lied to the FBI twice before finally saying that he bribed Nagin.
"It's your word against his (Nagin's)," said Jenkins. "You admitted you lied to the FBI to serve your interests."
When Jenkins questioned Williams about the process for awarding contracts, Williams held strong to his belief that the former mayor was the trigger man in any deal.
Jenkins: Is it your understanding that the selection review committee decided which companies got work with the city?”
Williams: No sir. They recommended to the mayor the companies that qualified for the work and the mayor used his discretion to award the contract.”
Jenkins sought to categorize Williams' dealings with Nagin as legitimate business deals and money that he gave to the Nagin family as "loans." At the end of his questioning, Jenkins pointed out that $10,000 Williams gave to Jeremy Nagin was a loan, at which point the prosecutor, Matt Coman, re-directed. "Did you ever get that money back?" Williams was asked. His reply, "No."
Coman then pressed his point further.
Coman: If you didn’t bribe Mayor Nagin would you be sitting here today?
Coman: If you didn’t bribe the mayor would you be facing criminal charges?
Coman: Did you deliver for the mayor?
Coman: Did he deliver for you?
Also testifying Friday was Williams' business partner, Bassam Makari, who told the court that Williams convinced him to write a $20,000 to Stone Age, the granite company run by the Nagin family, in order to get more city work.
Makari went on to say that he and Williams set up shell companies so that their company, Three-Fold, didn't get into the mix.
Makari said he questioned the payoffs that were being made, but Williams later told him, as they were getting city business, "See, I told you it was going to pay off."