NEW ORLEANS -- Disgraced former Mayor Ray Nagin hasn't appealed his conviction yet, but a website purports to be raising money for him to do just that.
NaginLegalDefenseFund.com claims that Nagin 'lacks the resources for a more robust defense,' and seeks 'tax-free' donations to an independently administered trust set up on Feb. 27. That was about two weeks after the former mayor was convicted on 20 of 21 federal corruption counts.
The site says gifts will support, among other things, 'living and travel expenses related to clearing the Nagin family name.' It also rails about prosecutorial misconduct in the U.S. Attorney's Office and suggests that unsettled questions about other online postings could be grounds for Nagin to get his conviction overturned.
WWL-TV has not been able to determine if this is a real independent trust or even if Nagin is aware of it. But we did verify that at least one New Orleanian is already donating to it.
It allows for online donations and also gives a P.O. Box in Frisco, Texas, where Nagin is serving house arrest until his sentencing, which is scheduled for June 11.
The website was mentioned Friday by radio host Gerod Stevens, a longtime Nagin confidant. But Nagin, who quoted Stevens in a tweet this week and often comments on Twitter about the U.S. Attorney online commenting scandal, has not said anything about the defense fund on his own Twitter account. Also, neither the Texas nor the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office has record of any trust or active nonprofit corporation that uses Nagin's name.
Still, one of Stevens' listeners, Jamaal Williams, was so enthusiastic about giving that he tweeted a picture of his online donation receipt Friday. Williams spoke to WWL-TV and said he wasn't sure if the fund was authentic or not, but said he still felt good about giving $10 because he feels Nagin has been treated unfairly.
'You hear Ray crying out during the storm (Katrina) and that's the Ray I'm always going to remember,' Williams said. 'It touched me because (after Katrina) you see Ray growing a beard and you think, 'This is not a mayor who abandoned ship.' No, he was like, 'I'm here with the lights off.' So, I just wanted to let him know I support him.'
Williams says he isn't sure if Nagin is guilty of corruption or not, but feels the online commenting by the U.S. Attorney's Office created an unfair fight.
'He was already, to me, prosecuted before the trial,' said Williams, a rapper who goes by the name 9th Ward Gucci. 'Did he get a fair trial? I'm not sure. But I just feel as though they (federal prosecutors) have unlimited resources to attack him 24/7, even before, even after, and tarnish his name, and so he need all the help he need.'
While a dejected Nagin defiantly maintained his innocence to a throng of media after the jury convicted him, the defense fund web page gives the most detailed explanation to date of how the court system might have wronged him.
It says: 'Ray Nagin maintains his complete innocence and is unwavering that he was never involved in any bribery schemes. However, he regrets mistakes in allowing himself to be misunderstood and not preventing infectors from getting close to his family. On the other hand, justice demands the former mayor should not be held accountable for the wrong doings of others.'
It also says: 'Ray looks forward to a fair appeal where jurors are balanced, all cards are on the table and the full story is honestly told.' An appeal before the 5th Circuit Court would not involve a jury. It also implies that Nagin's jury trial did not expose the 'full story,' even though Nagin himself took the stand for nearly eight hours.
Nagin's trial attorneys, Robert Jenkins, Branden Villavaso and Garron Johnson, did not respond to messages seeking comment. An email to the defense fund web site was not returned Friday. Efforts to reach Nagin directly were unsuccessful. Jenkins has promised an appeal, but has also said he will not handle that phase of the case.