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Bribery trial opens for ex-mayor of New Orleans

Ray Nagin arrived at the Hale Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014.

Jonathan Bachman/AP

Ray Nagin arrived at the Hale Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014.

NEW ORLEANS — Jury selection began Monday in the trial of former mayor Ray Nagin, who faces 21 charges that he accepted bribes and free trips among other items from contractors in exchange for helping them secure millions of dollars in city work.

Nagin, a Democrat who was mayor when Hurricane Katrina stuck in 2005, served two terms before leaving office in 2010. He was living in a Dallas suburb when a federal grand jury indicted him a year ago.

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Nagin had little to say as he entered the federal courthouse with a noticeable limp.

A total of 39 potential jurors were screened Monday and sent home by US District Judge Helen Berrigan to await her final empaneling decision.

Each bribery count against Nagin carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Each wire fraud count is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The charges are the product of a City Hall corruption investigation that already has resulted in several convictions of or guilty pleas by former Nagin associates.

Nagin’s indictment accuses him of accepting more than $160,000 in bribes and truckloads of free granite for his family business in exchange for promoting the interests of local businessman Frank Fradella.

Nagin was also charged with accepting at least $60,000 in payoffs from another businessman, Rodney Williams, for his help in securing city contracts.

The indictment asserts that Nagin received free private jet and limousine services to New York from an unidentified businessman who owned a New Orleans movie theater. Nagin allegedly agreed to waive tax penalties the businessman owed to the city on a delinquent tax bill in 2006.

From several city contractors, Nagin is accused of accepting free travel and vacation expenses for trips to Hawaii, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Jamaica while in office.

The allegations aren’t limited to his tenure as mayor. Prosecutors said Nagin accepted monthly payoffs from Fradella totaling $112,250 after he left office.

Aaron Bennett, a businessman awaiting sentencing in a separate bribery case, told The Times-Picayune he introduced Nagin to Fradella specifically to help the mayor get a Home Depot contract for granite installation work for a business Nagin and his sons founded.

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