NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) — Former New Orleans
Mayor C. Ray Nagin on Friday testified during his federal corruption
trial that he had not traded city business for bribes after Hurricane
Katrina devastated the city.
Nagin, 57, faces 21 charges of bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and
tax evasion related to contracts for millions of dollars in recovery
work after the 2005 storm.
During Nagin's second day on the witness stand, prosecutor Matthew
Coman asked Nagin about documents that authorities say are evidence
that the former mayor schemed to extract money or favors from
businesses in exchange for city contracts.
Coman showed contracts signed by Nagin, checks written by the
contractors to the Nagin family's countertop installation company
and invoices for granite delivered to the company at no cost to
demonstrate that the mayor gained $500,000 by trading on his office.
Nagin repeatedly denied the charge.
"You never put your own personal and financial interests first?"
"Absolutely not," the former two-term mayor said, insisting that he
had been a good public servant.
He added, "I was working for the city."
Nagin said contractors who have pleaded guilty to bribery charges
and testified that they were shaken down by the mayor have lied.
The former mayor said he never told contractor Rodney Williams, as
Williams testified on Monday, that he was "tapped out" or needed
Nagin repeatedly said the tens of thousands of dollars prosecutors
describe as bribes were actually investments into the countertop
company the mayor co-owned with his two sons.
He said he was the "passive" owner of a 20 percent share in that
company, but Coman showed the company's 2007 tax return listing
Nagin as a 60 percent owner. Nagin said the percentage listing was
for tax purposes only.
Coman showed a transcript of a message Nagin left for an executive
at Home Depot Inc when the retailer was seeking approval to buy city
property to open a new store.
Prosecutors allege that Nagin arranged for his sons' company to get
business from Home Depot in return for his assurance that the
company would get the needed approvals.
In the email message, Nagin complained to the executive that Home
Depot was not being helpful enough to his sons.
"I must tell you I am somewhat disappointed in the number of jobs we
have gotten and a pattern of broken promises," Nagin said in the
Several employees of Home Depot testified about the company's
dealings with the city administration after Katrina. No one
associated with the company has been charged in the case.
Coman reminded Nagin of his testimony that his policy as mayor was
that no city employee should accept anything of value from anyone
doing business with the city.
"Mr. Nagin, you sold your office, didn't you?" Coman said in
concluding his cross-examination.
"Nope," Nagin answered.
Following re-direct questioning by defense lawyer Robert Jenkins,
Judge Helen Berrigan adjourned the session. She said the jury would
hear closing arguments on Monday and would begin deliberating
Nagin, a former cable TV executive, was swept into office in 2002 on
promises of good government. He was re-elected four years later.
Nagin, now a resident of Frisco, Texas, faces a possible prison
sentence of more than 20 years if convicted on all counts.
(Reporting by Kathy Finn; editing by Ian Simpson and David Gregorio)