This week, in an overwhelming victory for federal prosecutors, former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was found guilty on 20 of 21 corruption counts. A jury convicted Nagin of bribery, wire fraud, money laundering and filing false tax returns. The former Mayor could face decades in prison and will be sentenced on June 11.
It is fitting that he will serve the next four months under electronic monitoring in Plano, Texas. It is the same area where Nagin spent so much time during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as his citizens were struggling to rebuild their lives.
As the trial showed, Nagin did not care about his fellow citizens; he was only interested in selfish gain. As Mayor and even on the witness stand, Nagin lamented about the massive pay cut he faced when he left the corporate world. Nagin resigned from a management position at Cox Communications that paid over $300,000 annually to become Mayor and make only $130,000 per year. Obviously, he was intent on keeping his luxurious lifestyle and used illegal means to supplement his income.
The federal government showed how he accepted vacations and air travel from vendors and illegally charged taxpayers for personal expenses, such as dinners with his wife. While the corruption started before Hurricane Katrina, the opportunities to cash in on his powerful position really presented itself after storm when he made over $300,000 in illegal bribes.
In the end, his arrogance was his undoing. Nagin refused a plea bargain and arrogantly believed he could convince the jury with his testimony. Of course, he was wrong this time, but, in 2002, during his first mayoral campaign, his arrogance was not discovered by the voters of New Orleans. Unfortunately, at that time, New Orleans voters did not want to see the truth. They accepted the Nagin campaign line that he was a fresh reformer, without really examining his scant credentials and phony rhetoric.
In 2006, his poor record should have disqualified Nagin for re-election; however, he sealed his victory by the infamous racial appeal of his “chocolate city” speech. He appealed for African American votes by claiming that God wanted the city to stay a majority black community. While he won re-election, he destroyed any chance he had of uniting New Orleans during the recovery period.
When the city was in the throes of horrific violence in January of 2007, a massive demonstration descended on City Hall. As the citizens demanded more public safety, Nagin was seated on stage in front of the desperate crowd reviewing his phone and exchanging emails about his family granite business, Stone Age, LLC.
The granite business was the proverbial nail in the coffin for Nagin and he worked corrupt deals with everyone from Home Depot to businessman Frank Fradella, to funnel money and contracts to the floundering family owned business.
This conviction makes Nagin the first Mayor in the 300 year history of New Orleans to be indicted and convicted of corruption charges. He adds to the well deserved reputation of Louisiana as a den of corruption. Our state has more public corruption convictions per capita than any other state in the nation.
The Nagin case marks another tragedy for this region. Louisiana has untold natural resources and should be flush with money and job opportunities. Instead, we are often at the bottom of most good lists and the top of the bad ones such as poverty, crime and poor public schools.
One of the major reasons for these dismal results is that voters keep electing the worst type of self serving, corrupt politicians like Ray Nagin to office. In other words, we get what we deserve.