NEW ORLEANS - As former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin braces for what could be a lengthy prison term at his federal sentencing Wednesday, letters from his wife and three children paint a picture of family heartache, financial ruin and continued denial of guilt even though a jury found Nagin guilty on 20 out of 21 corruption charges.
The letters are now compiled in the court record along with more than 20 other letters from friends and supporters that focus on requests for leniency.
But Nagin’s wife, Seletha, doesn’t plea for leniency in her four-page letter dated July 1. She defends her husband as innocent and asks U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan to dismiss the case – or at least delay the day of reckoning.
“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,” she wrote.
In her letter, Seletha Nagin repeatedly criticizes the federal investigation of her husband and questions the motive of prosecutors.
Her pleas center on the scandal in which two high-ranking federal prosecutors were exposed as the authors of online comments dealing with active cases, including Nagin’s.
Nagin’s attorney tried to argue that the prosecutorial misconduct was enough to throw out the former mayor’s charges, but Berrigan denied those motions.
“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 wrote.
Her letter also expresses the family’s shock and anguish over the outcome of her husband’s trial.
“Listening to the verdicts being read that day was the most horrific experience a wife could go through knowing her husband is innocent,” she wrote. “As I sat in the courtroom, my heart skipped a beat every time a guilty verdict was read. I became weak and ill. I wanted to scream out, where is the justice, but there was none, not on that day.”
The verdict has been ruinous for the family, she wrote.
“We are mentally and financially drained. 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.”
Nagin’s son Jeremy also appeals to Judge Berrigan on the belief that his father is innocent.
“I know for a fact that my father has been railroaded to deflect attention and set an example,” he wrote.
Nagin’s other son, Jarin, takes a similar approach as his brother in his letter.
“Judge Berrigan, I’m asking you to put my father’s sentencing on hold until further investigations are done relative to how this case was developed. There have been several reports that have been released that suggest several prosecutors were involved in various forms of foul play.”
The family’s requests for the case to be revisited carry little or no weight under federal law. Federal sentencing guidelines based on Nagin’s crimes are the predominant factor in determining how long Nagin will serve, although judges can deviate up or down from calculations. In Nagin’s case, the guidelines are estimated to equate to a sentence greater than 15 years.
It is within a judge’s discretion to grant leniency based on a defendant’s clean record, good deeds and positive values outside of the facts of the case. Under those considerations, a handwritten letter from one of Nagin’s toddler grandsons is perhaps the most compelling.
The letter, which includes stick figures of grandfather and grandson kicking a soccer ball, reads:
“Dear judge, I’m writeing (sic) because I don’t wan (sic) to see my pops go to jail (Ray Nagin). He is a good person. I like when Pops reads to me. We enjoy playing soccer. I like it when he picks me up from school and helps me with my homework. Please don’t take him away from me.”