NEW ORLEANS – After a quiet summer, federal prosecutors are intensely prepping witnesses and issuing new subpoenas as they gear up for the October corruption trial of former Mayor Ray Nagin, multiple sources tell WWL-TV.
Nagin was indicted in January on 21 counts of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and tax fraud.
At that time, many were surprised that Nagin didn’t take a plea deal, given that his attorney, Robert Jenkins, acknowledged having had plea discussions with federal prosecutors. When the grand jury indictment made reference to other important figures who could be ensnared in the alleged conspiracy – including Nagin’s two adult sons and a local theater owner, known to be George Solomon Jr. – the pressure to cop a plea only increased.
Plea negotiations haven’t gone anywhere since, sources with knowledge of the case say.
The defense and the prosecution agreed to delay the trial once before, in April. But this time, it appears the government is ready to begin trial in front of U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan on Oct. 7. The prosecutors have issued so-called trial subpoenas, seeking various documents the grand jury didn’t handle, and they have called in witnesses for detailed preparation for their testimony at trial.
Still, Loyola Law School Professor Dane Ciolino says another delay seems likely because a mountain of government evidence was just turned over to Nagin’s camp in June. Berrigan signed a protective order on June 2 to ensure that the grand jury evidence did not get released to the public, so tens of thousands of pages of documents were not provided to Nagin’s team until then.
“Usually, the documentary discovery would have been given to the defense within weeks or so of the indictment,” Ciolino said. “But because of the concern for confidentiality and because of the need for a protective order, that was put off for several months. That gives the defense a viable basis for filing a motion to continue. And if that is filed and they make a strong case for it, I would expect the judge to grant it.”
Berrigan is known as a very accommodating judge when it comes to requests for more time, and Ciolino said four months – from June to October -- is not a lot of time to review that much evidence and prepare defense witnesses.
Jenkins did not respond to WWL-TV’s requests for comment. If he does seeks a continuance, it could delay the trial anywhere from a few more weeks to several months.
The fact that the U.S. Attorney’s Office still has no permanent leader is not expected to have any bearing on the case. Kenneth Polite, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Jim Letten, was expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate over the summer, but Congress went to its August recess without handling the matter.
That means Polite will be in place – at the earliest – only a few weeks before the Nagin trial is scheduled to begin. But the prosecution team is led by two veteran assistant U.S. attorneys who have been working the case for years. Matthew Coman and Rick Pickens already argued a significant portion of the case in the 2011 trial of Mark St. Pierre, the technology vendor who paid for Nagin’s family trips to Hawaii, Jamaica and elsewhere and received millions of dollars in city contracts through a no-bid arrangement.