Bribery case of ex-New Orleans mayor goes to jury

NEW ORLEANS — The corruption case against Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, was in the hands of jurors Monday after prosecutors said they had presented evidence of a ‘‘mayor on the take.’’

Nagin’s defense lawyer told jurors the case was built on the testimony of witnesses tainted by their own criminal conduct who were hoping for lighter sentences.

US District Judge Helen Berrigan read lengthy instructions to jurors, who began deliberations mid-afternoon.


A 21-count indictment alleges that Nagin sought and accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of bribes from people doing business with the city. Prosecutors say the bribes were in the form of money, free travel, and free slabs of granite for a family business.

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The alleged corruption spanned his two terms as mayor from 2002 to 2010, and prosecutors said it flourished as the city handed out lucrative contracts after Katrina-related levee failures led to catastrophic flooding.

‘‘You saw how a mayor on the take operates,’’ Assistant US Attorney Richard Pickens said in closing arguments, recapping testimony and evidence presented over seven days of testimony that ended Friday.

Behind him on a large white screen flashed pictures of e-mails, city documents, pages from Nagin’s appointment calendar, and newspaper articles — all used to back up testimony from more than two dozen prosecution witnesses, including five who said they were involved in bribing Nagin.

Nagin’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, attacked the credibility of key witnesses who entered plea deals with the government, some of whom are awaiting sentencing. In one case, he noted that a former investment banker, Mike McGrath, entered the court to testify in prison garb and handcuffs. McGrath had acknowledged that he could get an existing sentence reduced for an unrelated crime in New Jersey.


Jenkins told jurors they should consider whether a given witness ‘‘had an interest or a bias to testify the way the government wanted him to testify.’’ And he said prosecutors used misleading arguments, glossing over elements of their case that pointed to Nagin’s innocence.