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Ex-New Orleans mayor says witness lied

Nagin engages in testy exchange with prosecutor

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

AP/file

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

NEW ORLEANS — In sharp exchanges Thursday with a prosecutor in his corruption trial, former mayor Ray Nagin flatly denied seeking $60,000 from a contractor who had just been turned down for city business.

‘‘He lied,’’ Nagin said of key prosecution witness Rodney Williams, as Assistant US Attorney Matthew Coman questioned him about three $20,000 payments made by Williams’s company to Stone Age LLC, Nagin’s family-owned granite business.

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The testy back-and-forth came during cross-examination of Nagin, who is being tried on a 21-count indictment with charges including bribery, money laundering, conspiracy, and filing false tax returns. His testimony, during which he also downplayed his power to approve no-bid contracts, lasted until the trial recessed for the evening.

Earlier Thursday, Nagin’s lawyer questioned him during a calm, point-by-point rebutting of allegations that he took hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes during and after his two terms, from 2002-2010. Prosecutors allege that his corruption included the period after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, when contractors sought to benefit from potentially lucrative rebuilding jobs.

Nagin gave his side a day after the prosecution rested, ending five days of testimony from more than two dozen prosecution witnesses, including Williams and four others who said they were involved in bribing the former mayor.

Exchanges with Coman were sharp but, at times, jocular. At one point, Coman discussed a Mardi Gras season mayoral ball that Williams attended. ‘‘Yes, with a thousand of my closest friends,’’ Nagin said.

In a more serious tone, Nagin denied knowing that a one-time city vendor paid for his family’s vacation to Hawaii in 2004, a trip that prosecutors have cast as one of several bribes he accepted.

‘‘If anything, Greg said he was paying for’’ the trip, Nagin said under questioning from his lawyer, Robert Jenkins. He was referring to Greg Meffert, his former technology chief.

Meffert has pleaded guilty in the case and awaits sentencing. He testified last week that Nagin was aware that Mark St. Pierre and his NetMethods company paid for the Hawaii trip. St. Pierre was convicted of bribery and other charges in 2011.

Nagin sought to put a more innocent spin on what prosecutors have tried to establish as evidence of his corruption. He accepted a free private plane ride to Chicago for a Saints playoff game in early 2007 because flights out of New Orleans were still hard to arrange in the months after Katrina hit. He insisted that no business was discussed on the private plane of Frank Fradella, nor was it discussed in Chicago.

Nagin’s indictment says the flight was a payoff from Fradella, who has pleaded guilty in the case and testified that he bribed Nagin with cash and free granite for the foundering Nagin family granite business.

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