Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin last week filed a formal notice of appeal in the corruption case that resulted in a guilty verdict on 20 of 21 criminal
counts and a 10-year prison sentence, The Associated Press reported.
Nagin, a Democrat and businessman who campaigned for mayor on an anti-corruption platform, was convicted in February on charges including conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, wire fraud and filing false tax returns. The charges stem from his two terms as mayor from 2002 to 2010 — including the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005.
During his first term in office, Nagin often referred to himself as a “change agent” who was committed to rooting out public corruption.
With the support and backing of the New Orleans business community, Nagin was able to move up from the back of a crowded field of mayoral candidates to defeat former NOPD Supt. Richard Pennington in the 2002 mayoral race.
Three years later, the mayor’s woes began to mount with the colossal challenge of rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city. With the pressures growing to make it possible for displaced New Orleanians to return home and get the city back up and running, Nagin tried to reassure displaced Black residents that they would always be welcome in post-Katrina New Orleans by uttering his now-infamous comments about New Orleans always being a “Chocolate City.”
The brief notice said the appeal will cover the verdict, the sentence and an order that Nagin forfeit over $500,000 acquired illegally, as well as court rulings prior to the verdict.
The notice was filed in U.S. District Court, and the appeal will be considered by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
According to court papers, the appeal is “including but not limited to the court’s judgment on the jury’s verdict, sentencing, fine, assessment and forfeiture, as well as all other prejudgment interlocutory orders and rulings in this case.”
Nagin, 58, has been ordered to report to the federal prison in Oakdale, La. on September 8.
A defiant Nagin continues to insist he is innocent and that he is paying the price for standing up to powerful people in New Orleans. On the local WBOK radio station, Nagin has talked often about a “shadow government” that controls everything that happens in the Crescent City.
His remarks puzzled some residents who disapproved after Nagin huddled with wealthy White business owners from New Orleans in Dallas, Texas shortly after Hurricane Katrina to devise a blueprint for post-Katrina New Orleans, When criticized by some residents and questioned by the media, Nagin said he saw nothing wrong with Blacks not being a part of that meeting because Blacks don’t participate in New Orleans’ economy in a meaningful way.
Until his indictment in 2013, Nagin was perhaps best known for a widely heard, profanity-laced radio interview in which he angrily blasted the federal response in the days after levee breaches flooded most of the city during Katrina.
He had been elected as a reformer, but prosecutors said graft in his administration pre-dated Hurricane Katrina and flourished afterward. The bribes came in the form of money, free vacations and truckloads of free granite for his family business, Stone Age, LLC.
While Nagin appeals his case, prosecutors may appeal as well. They had pushed for a sentence of about 20 years, pointing out that the former convicted mayor has shown no remorse. Federal prosecutors objected when U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan departed from federal guidelines with the 10-year sentence.
Robert Jenkins, Nagin’s lead attorney, had argued that Nagin should be spared a stiffer sentence because he was a first-time offender for whom a 20-year sentence would be a “virtual life sentence.”
Judge Berrigan seemed to agree, explaining that she didn’t believe Nagin was a criminal ringleader and perhaps made questionable decisions because of his desire to help those around him.
A decision on whether to appeal will be made by the U.S. Solicitor General in Washington, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“It’s interesting that Ray Nagin has been painted like some kind of champion of Black people’s rights in New Orleans because his record as mayor does not reflect that,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “During his tenure, cops were killing Black people like we were going out of style, the Road Home program was methodically shortchanging many Black homeowners in New Orleans, thousands of Black teachers, administrators and school staffers were fired by the state and the city’s housing projects were torn down without any input from the people who lived there.
“White people are now disappointed that Nagin just received a 10-year prison sentence, but that vendetta was sparked by the ‘Chocolate City’ remark,” Aha added. “Many people seem to forget that it was the white business community that went out and found Ray Nagin, recruited him to run for mayor and threw its support behind him to catapult him to victory. Those same people in the business community now take no responsibility for putting Ray Nagin in the driver’s seat at City Hall.”