NEW ORLEANS - Federal prosecutors have charged Rodney Williams with conspiracy to commit bribery by paying off a public official known to be former Mayor Ray Nagin.
It’s a story Eyewitness Investigations first broke earlier this month.
Our sources tell us that Rodney W. Williams, former president of Three Fold Consultants LLC, paid Nagin more than $50,000 and was rewarded with no-bid city contracts that, according to public records, added up to $3 million during the last two years of Nagin’s administration.
The bill of information unsealed Friday in federal court said that beginning in November 2007, Public Official A who served the exact time Nagin was in office helped Williams’ business interests in exchange for payoffs. And beginning in or near January 2008, Williams began a series of payoffs through wire transfers to Nagin “in connection with obtaining work with the city of New Orleans.”
With January marking five years since the alleged payoffs began and other statute of limitations issues looming, WWL-TV Legal Analyst Chick Foret expects the grand jury to indict Nagin soon.
"If indeed the government is concerned about prescription and statute of limitations, which in my opinion they need to be, it looks like Mayor Nagin is going to be indicted shortly," Foret said.
The charges against Williams were first filed Nov. 16, four days after we reported that Williams was prepared to plead guilty. But the charges were just unsealed Friday. A hearing has already been set for Wednesday so Williams can plead guilty.
Williams is scheduled for arraignment Monday, where he will have to enter a not guilty plea. He's then expected to change his plea to guilty on Wednesday and sources have told us he's ready to testify against Nagin.
Williams' attorney, Ralph Capitelli, declined to comment. Nagin's defense lawyer, Robert Jenkins, did not respond to requests for comment.
The alleged payments by Williams were made by interstate wire transfer, which leads to the charge of honest services wire fraud.
The payments of more than $50,000 apparently helped launch Three Fold as a go-to construction design firm in Nagin's City Hall. Starting in January 2008, Three Fold collected more than $3 million from the Nagin administration to design and manage street and sidewalk repairs, downtown bike racks, NORD playground projects, fire houses and more.
Williams and Three Fold also contributed more than $13,000 to Nagin's election campaigns. Williams was removed as president of the company a few months ago.
Three Fold and Williams appear to have little, if anything, to do with the other people the feds have lined up to testify against Nagin: former aides Greg Meffert and Anthony Jones and contractors Mark St. Pierre, Aaron Bennett and Frank Fradella.
Nagin was expected to fight those allegations by contending he did nothing special for those contractors, even if they did give him exotic vacations or other freebies. For instance, with St. Pierre – who paid for Nagin vacations and campaign parties through Meffert – Nagin always contended that he thought Meffert had paid, not a vendor.
Or with Fradella -- who pleaded guilty in June to funneling $50,000 to Nagin and sending him truckloads of free granite for the Nagin family countertop firm – Nagin could argue that Fradella’s company got its city work through open bidding.
Sources tell us that's not the case with Williams and Three Fold, which got at least some of their deals through no-bid arrangements and through a process for professional services work that Nagin controlled and kept secret.
In at least one case, our sources told us that Three Fold was considered unqualified for a contract by a panel that reviewed professional services firms, but Nagin handed them the deal anyway.
"In Mr. Fradella's situation, there may not have been the classic quid pro quo. It was a public bid situation in Mr. Fradella's case," Foret said. "In this situation, it looks like Mr. Williams has more of a quid pro quo. It was a selection that was made by former Mayor Nagin. So not only is the amount and the quantity of the evidence building against Ray Nagin but also it appears to me in my opinion, the quality of the evidince is building against Ray Nagin."
The bill of information unsealed today in court also says that Williams and the Public Official A created documents to conceal the true reason for the payoffs. Our sources say that's similar to an arrangement with Fradella, in which Nagin created ownership documents for his granite countertop business, Stone Age LLC.
Our sources say that Michael McGrath, the chairman of Fradella's company who allegedly paid Nagin $50,000 in June 2008, got bogus Stone Age ownership documents in return. Other sources tell us that Williams got the same deal to make it look like his alleged payoffs were in return for a stake in Stone Age.
Particularly important there, our sources say that Nagin's sons, Jeremy and Jarin, who owned and operated Stone Age with their father, were involved in the discussions to provide bogus ownership documents to Williams. The sons, who lived with their father into adulthood, have already been called before the grand jury to testify.
Foret suspects the former mayor will have to worry about charges against his closely knit family.
"Not only does Ray Nagin have to worry about himself as a likely defendant, he's got to worry about whether or not the government is going to focus in on his sons and the granite business that his sons were involved in," Foret said.
Stone Age ceased operations in January 2009 and only Nagin and his two sons were listed as owners in public records.