Ex-New Orleans mayor Nagin's corruption trial jury sworn

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 30, 2014 3:32 PM

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - After a two-day weather delay, a jury was sworn in on Thursday in the corruption trial of former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, who led the city during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and now faces charges he profited personally from the rebuilding effort.

Nagin, 57, who was swept into office on promises of good government in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 21 counts of corruption, including bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and filing false tax returns.

He could be sentenced to 20 years - or more - in prison under federal guidelines if convicted, said legal expert Tania Tetlow, a Tulane University law professor and former assistant U.S. attorney who has followed the case.

The jury was expected to hear opening statements as early as Thursday. The trial is slated to run for about two weeks, with many of Nagin's former associates on the witness list for the prosecution, court officials have said.

During a long federal investigation, former Nagin aides and associates signed plea deals with the government, agreeing to testify against him.

Nagin was indicted January 2013 and charged with accepting gifts that included more than $200,000 in cash and wire transfers, free vacations for him and his family, and truck loads of free granite delivered to a countertop installation company Nagin owned with his two sons.

Nagin's trial was due to begin in October 2013, but U.S. District Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan granted a delay to give Nagin's attorney, Robert Jenkins, more time to prepare. Jenkins did not respond to a request for comment.

Nagin was thrust into the national spotlight in 2005 when Katrina overwhelmed levees and flooded 80 percent of the city, killing 1,500 people and causing some $80 billion in damage.

Thousands of New Orleans residents were displaced by the storm, especially poor African-Americans, and many were relocated for months or left New Orleans permanently.

As mayor during the crisis, Nagin publicly clashed with federal and state officials over relief efforts and was accused of making inflammatory statements during the crisis.

Later, Nagin, who is black, was criticized for racial divisiveness when he urged residents to rebuild a "chocolate New Orleans," referring to its majority African-American population.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Gunna Dickson)