NEW ORLEANS -- Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin looked dour walking into federal court Wednesday for his arraignment, then spoke defiantly as he pleaded “not guilty” to each of 21 felony counts read to him by a magistrate judge.
But, as Eyewitness News legal analyst Donald "Chick" Foret said, anyone who has read the lengthy indictment and seen the raft of witnesses the government has lined up against the former mayor gets the sense that prosecutors hold most of the cards.
Foret calls the government “the favorite” in the case, if it were to go to trial in April.
In the indictment handed up Jan. 18, prosecutors allege that Nagin got free air travel from two city technology vendors, including Mark St. Pierre, who is now serving a 17-year prison term for bribing Nagin’s former aide, Greg Meffert, who is also ready to testify against his old boss.
And Nagin's granite countertop business, Stone Age LLC, allegedly collected more than $120,000 in payments from contractors Frank Fradella and Rodney Williams.
“All of these witnesses are lined up to testify for the government and against Ray Nagin,” Foret said. Nagin’s attorney “Robert Jenkins, in my opinion, and Ray Nagin, need to at least discuss a possible resolution with the government to keep from a possible St. Pierre-type sentence if he goes to trial and he loses, and I have no doubt that Mr. Jenkins has had some of those conversations and will continue to have conversations.”
The most damning allegations in the indictment are bribery and wire fraud charges related to payments from Fradella and Williams.
Fradella has alleged in his plea deal that he got favorable treatment from Nagin in exchange for a $50,000 payoff to Stone Age and truckloads of free granite for the struggling company while Nagin was still in office. Fradella also says he paid Nagin $12,500 for a post-mayoral consulting gig and arranged for another $100,000 in consulting payments in the eight months that followed.
And Williams is the real linchpin because Nagin allegedly helped his company directly receive millions of dollars in city contracts as a quid-pro-quo for more than $72,000 in bribes. Again, the money was funneled through Stone Age.
That raises the other big question hanging over the Nagin case: Will Nagin's two adult sons, Jeremy and Jarin Nagin, who owned Stone Age with their father, be charged?
The last $10,000 payment Williams allegedly made as a payoff to Nagin was in cash to his close family members in 2009, according to the indictment. Sources confirm those close family members are Jeremy and Jarin Nagin, and that they were also involved when Stone Age allegedly agreed to give bogus corporate ownership documents to Williams and a Fradella associate as a way to cover up the true reason for those payments.
But the sons' attorney, Clarence Roby Jr., told me today that there’s no more clarity for his clients today than there was in the nervous weeks leading up to the indictment. He said he’s had no conversations with the government and his efforts to reach out to them have been fruitless.
Foret said that’s not surprising because, as usual, the government has the upper-hand.
“I don’t think they're going to act as it relates to the sons; I think the government is going to react to the actions of Ray Nagin in deciding what to do with possible charges against the sons,” he said.
In other words, the ball is in Nagin’s court. He hasn’t been willing to deal to this point, and if he remains defiant, the feds have the option to charge the sons then and likely have more than a year to do it.