NEW ORLEANS -- One of the government's star witnesses in the trial against former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said he formed a shell company so that he could hide bribes paid to Nagin in exchange for a cut of post-Katrina business coming to the city.
Rodney Williams, who pleaded guilty in December 2012 to paying Nagin and his sons more than $72,000 in bribes and kickbacks, gave damning testimony.
On the stand, Williams said that Nagin told him that if he gave Stone Age, a company run by the Nagin family, $60,000, then Nagin would "take care of us."
The questioning hammered home the point that Nagin was given tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for greasing the skids on lucrative rebuilding contracts.
Prosecutor Matt Coman: Why did you give (Nagin) $10,000?
Rodney Williams: Because we were just awarded a $1 miillion contract with the city.
Coman: Who awarded you that contract?
Williams: Ray Nagin
Coman: Was it a payoff?
Williams: Yes it was
At one point Coman put up a picture for the courtroom to see where Williams and Nagin appeared to be whispering at a Mardi Gras party. Williams testified that was when Nagin told him that he would receive a lucrative contract.
Prior to that the prosecution came out swinging in its opening statements by portraying former Mayor Ray Nagin as a corrupt politician who wanted to be paid more than his salary and who accepted bribes, avoided taxes and blacked out his calendar to hide meetings.
Coman said that among the illegal 'deals' entered into by Nagin would be failed or incomplete projects that would have rebuilt the dormant Six Flags theme park site into a NASCAR-style racetrack and the development of a Market Street power plant.
The defense, in a short opening statement, portrayed the government witnesses as flawed and said all of the deals with Nagin could be explained.
"Corruption was alive and well in New Orleans from 2002-2010 when Ray Nagin was mayor," said prosecutor Matt Coman in his opening statement.
Coman told jurors that in the total alleged scheme, Nagin collected a total of $511,000 in bribes, kickbacks, trips, free cell phone service, yard service and other things of value.
The prosecution alleged Nagin took the illegal payments in exchange for government contracts, some directly to him, and some that benefitted Stone Age, a granite company that the Nagin family controlled.
Robert Jenkins, the attorney for Nagin, spent most of his time questioning the witness list against the former mayor.
He alleged that several of the witnesses pleaded guilty two to three years ago and have yet to be sentenced. He said the wife of former Nagin aide Greg Meffet was charged and then given a deal.
He said that while Nagin's taxes were "complicated," there was never an effort to hide any income.
Following the opening arguments, some public documents were read into the record.
Analyst Chick Foret said that it looked as if Nagin's defense was in trouble, in that they would have to count on discrediting all of the prosecution's witnesses.
The trial was delayed Tuesday and Wednesday after plummeting temperatures and freezing rain shut down roads and bridges in southern Louisiana. The continued closure of roads and bridges, particularly the Causeway, caused an hour-long delay getting the jury seated and sworn in.