NEW ORLEANS -- Potential jurors for the long-awaited public corruption trial of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin will have to wait a few days to find out if they'll be serving on the high-profile case.
The federal court judge released all potential jurors Monday evening before jury selection was able to be finished.
Because of wintry weather in the area, the court will not hold trial Tuesday and will hope to resume jury selection Wednesday. Judge Ginger Berrigan said she still needs to question one more prospective juror.
Nagin made the short walk across Lafayette Square into federal court with his attorney Robert Jenkins and the rest of his defense team Monday morning. They had little to say as they approached the federal courthouse for the first day of jury selection.
Nagin faces a 21-count indictment, including charges of bribery, wire fraud and money laundering while mayor from 2002 to 2010.
'Fair and Impartial Jury'
Eyewitness News Legal Analyst Donald “Chick” Foret said despite tremendous publicity surrounding the case, the region will produce a fair and impartial jury.
“I have found that is a very good cross section of jurors. You can get all different demographics, ages.”
Foret said city vendors Mark St. Pierre, Rodney Williamds and Frank Fradella will be star witnesses for the prosecution.
“Their testimony, I anticipate, is going to be so powerful that they’re going to say not only did I know Ray Nagin, not only did I deal with Ray Nagin, not only did I discuss possible bribes with Ray Nagin, but I actually bribed him.”
Potential jurors for the trial are being pulled from a 13-parish area -- Assumption, Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne and Washington.
The first panel of 16 prospective jurors were questioned by Berrigan before lunch and were sent home, with the possibility that they won't have to come back tomorrow because of the weather. That first panel had seven Jefferson Parish residents, five from Orleans, three from St. Tammany and one from St. Bernard.
They were asked if they knew any of the possible witnesses, and one man who worked for the IRS said he knew several federal agents who were on the government's list.
Some of the witness who may be called to testify also began to emerge on the first day of the trial. A possible defense witness, former Department of Public Works director Robert Mendoza, could be seen conversing with Jenkins. On the witness list were several former Nagin aides, such as Donna Adkisson, Arlinda Westbrook, Penya Moses-Fields and Kenya Smith.
Bank presidents Ashton Ryan, Alden McDonald and theater owner George Solomon Jr., were on the witness list as well. They were allegedly granted loan and tax waivers for a theater they owned together in eastern New Orleans in exchange for a family trip to New York City for Nagin.
No surprise on the list were star federal witnesses Rodney Williams and Frank Fradella. Williams' business partners Tarek Elnaggar and Bassam Mekari were on the government's list, as was Michael McGrath, a Fradella associate who allegedly sent Nagin $50,000 in exchange for ownership in Nagin's family countertop business. McGrath is in the federal penitentiary on unrelated mortgage fraud conviction.
Williams, the former president of Three Fold Consultants LLC, allegedly paid Nagin more than $72,000 and was rewarded with no-bid city contracts. Williams pleaded guilty to paying Nagin and his sons. Fradella pleaded guilty in 2012 to sending the $50,000 payment through McGrath, $112,000 in consulting payments to Nagin and free truckloads of granite to Nagin's family company, Stone Age LLC.
Interestingly, Nagin's defense witness list also includes Bill Edwards, who was involved in a deal with Fradella in the purchase of a company that did city work.
Mark St. Pierre made the witness list, possibly good news for him as he tries to reduce a 17-year prison term. Aaron Bennett, however, was left off the witness list. Bennett, who pleaded guilty to bribing Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle in October 2011, has said he introduced Nagin to Frank Fradella, but he's violated his probation and is in jail awaiting sentencing.
The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.