By Kathy Finn and Jonathan Kaminsky
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Disgraced former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was set to be sentenced by a federal judge on Wednesday on 20 corruption charges that could land him in prison for two decades.
A jury in February found Nagin guilty of charges that include bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and tax evasion, all in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Nagin stirred national controversy with his erratic behavior after Katrina in 2005 breached floodwalls and inundated New Orleans, killing at least 1,500 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
Prosecutors have asked for a stiff sentence of about 20 years, while Nagin's attorney, citing his lack of a criminal record, has urged leniency.
Prosecutors said the combined value of the bribes, which included personal parties, private jet rides and first-class airfare for a family shopping trip to New York, totaled more than $500,000.
During the 10-day trial, prosecutors portrayed Nagin as a mayor on the take, granting favors for bribes that included tons of free granite delivered to a kitchen countertop company he ran with his sons.
Testifying on his own behalf, Nagin flatly denied taking any bribe.
A former cable TV executive elected in 2002 on promises of running an ethical government, Nagin won re-election four years later.
According to prosecutors, he immediately began seeking money from contractors to fund the struggling family business.
Nagin's attorney, Robert Jenkins, said after the guilty verdict that the former mayor would appeal his conviction.
Any appeal will likely be complicated by the defense not moving during the trial to have the evidence against Nagin ruled too weak for a conviction, said Herbert Larson, an expert on federal criminal law at the Tulane University Law School.
Such motions are crucial for revisiting those arguments on appeal, Larson said.
"I don't think there are many if any viable avenues for an appeal for Ray Nagin," Larson said.
Jenkins did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
As he sought re-election the year following Hurricane Katrina, Nagin, a black politician who previously enjoyed strong support from both black and white voters, seemed to take a racially divisive approach to his campaign, urging residents to rebuild a "chocolate New Orleans," referring to its majority black population.
He now lives in Frisco, Texas.
(Editing by David Adams and Sandra Maler)