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Ex-New Orleans mayor ends 2 days of testimony

Final arguments set for Monday

New Orleans’ ex-mayor, Ray Nagin, downplayed his role in approving city contracts.

New Orleans’ ex-mayor, Ray Nagin, downplayed his role in approving city contracts.

NEW ORLEANS — Former mayor Ray Nagin ended two tense days on the witness stand Friday, insisting he was not involved in any bribes and struggling to justify expensive birthday, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and wedding anniversary dinners that were charged to the city’s credit card — benefits he paid no taxes on, and that, according to prosecutors, he took advantage of as the city struggled financially after Hurricane Katrina.

‘‘Thank you, Jesus,’’ Nagin said Friday afternoon when US District Judge Helen Berrigan told him he could step down from the stand.

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Nagin’s trial recessed for the weekend. Closing arguments are set for Monday, after which the trial goes to the jury.

The former mayor, a Democrat who served from 2002-2010, was indicted on 21 counts, including bribery, money laundering, conspiracy, and filing false tax returns. Prosecutors say he took hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of bribes including money, free travel, and granite for the business he and his sons owned, granite installers Stone Age LLC.

Assistant US Attorney Matthew Coman touched on all aspects of the charges in more than five hours of intense cross-examination. The last minutes were spent going over city credit card receipts and Nagin’s appointment calendar entries to show that various personal dinners were charged to the city.

Earlier, Coman confronted Nagin with evidence of phone calls, meetings, and checks from people who say they bribed him for city work or for his backing on development projects.

Nagin repeatedly downplayed his role in approving city contracts, particularly in the hectic days after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, when lucrative city rebuilding work was mounting.

Nagin stuck to his claim that he did not know that a city Internet technology vendor paid for an expensive trip to Jamaica. He said his then-tech chief, Greg Meffert, claimed to have paid for the trip. Meffert has testified that Nagin knew that now-imprisoned businessman Mark St. Pierre paid for the trip.

The former mayor acknowledged taking a $20,000-plus plane trip with his family to New York in 2006. ‘‘I don’t have any independent recollection of how we got there,’’ he said, adding that he learned only after the trip, upon seeing documentation, that it was paid for by a movie theater owner.

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