NEW ORLEANS -- Former Mayor Ray Nagin, who took the national stage as the colorful and determined leader of New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, was indicted yesterday on charges that he used his office for personal gain while the city was struggling to recover from the storm.
The charges that he accepted payoffs, free trips and gratuities from contractors are the outgrowth of a City Hall corruption investigation that already has resulted in guilty pleas by two former city officials and two businessmen and a prison sentence for a former city vendor.
The federal indictment accuses Nagin of accepting more than $160,000 in bribes and truckloads of free granite for his family business in exchange for promoting the interests of a local businessman who secured millions of dollars in city contract work after the 2005 hurricane.
Nagin, 56, also is charged with accepting at least $60,000 in payoffs from another businessman for his help in securing city contracts for architectural, engineering and management services work. Both businessmen have pleaded guilty.
The indictment also accuses Nagin of accepting free travel and vacation expenses for trips to New York, Hawaii, Chicago, Las Vegas and Jamaica while in office.
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The alleged bribery plot isn't limited to Nagin's two terms as mayor. Prosecutors say Nagin accepted monthly payoffs from one of the businessmen totaling $112,250 after he left office.
Nagin, who is African-American and a former cable television executive, was a political novice before being elected mayor as a Democrat in 2002, buoyed by strong support from white voters. He cast himself a reform-minded progressive.
Nagin gained a reputation during Katrina for sometimes cringe-inducing rhetoric.
During a radio interview soon after the storm, he angrily pleaded with federal officials to "get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans." In January 2006, he apologized for predicting New Orleans would be a "chocolate city" and said that "God was mad at America."
Strong support from black voters helped Nagin win re-election in 2006 despite widespread criticism of his post-Katrina leadership. Nagin, who now lives in Frisco, Texas, could not seek a third consecutive term because of term limits.
He has largely steered clear of the political arena since he left office. On his Twitter account, he describes his current occupations as author, public speaker and "green energy entrepreneur."