Prosecutors accused former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, who led the city during Hurricane Katrina, of running a graft scheme that netted him cash, vacation trips and granite supplies in exchange for contracts to help rebuild the city after the storm.
Nagin, 57, who was swept into office on promises of good government in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, was indicted a year ago by a federal grand jury on 21 counts of corruption, including bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and filing false tax returns.
“The evidence presented at this trial will show that Ray Nagin was a corrupt mayor — plain and simple,” prosecutor Matthew Coman said in a 45-minute opening statement on Thursday.
Nagin’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, told the jury to expect ample evidence that will counter the prosecution’s charges.
“We have thousands and thousands of e-mails that support that there was no corruption ... no kickbacks,” Jenkins said in his 10-minute-long opening statement.
If convicted, Nagin could be sentenced to at least 20 years under federal guidelines, said Tania Tetlow, a Tulane University law professor and former assistant US attorney.
Nagin is accused of receiving kickbacks and free family trips to Hawaii and Jamaica in exchange for contracts for city business.
Prosecutors said a major contractor seeking business from the city gave the mayor US$50,000 in payoffs and sent truckloads of granite worth an estimated US$200,000 to supply a kitchen countertop company Nagin owned with his sons.
Prosecutors allege that Nagin also arranged for post-City Hall payments of more than US$112,000 from contractors.