Former Mayor Ray Nagin, who was convicted on 20 of 21 federal charges
in February, was sentenced this morning to 10 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $84,000 in restitution. The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Helen "Ginger" Berrigan, who presided over Nagin's trial earlier this year. Before the sentencing, Berrigan denied the defense's request to delay sentencing, saying there was "no real justification" in doing so.
Berrigan recommended the former mayor serve his term at FDC Oakdale Prison in Allen Parish in central Louisiana, where former Rep. William Jefferson is currently serving out his own federal sentence. Nagin must report to Oakdale Sept. 8.
The length of the sentence was somewhat surprising to court watchers; Mark St. Pierre, the City Hall tech vendor who also took a chance on going to trial on federal bribery charges related to Nagin rather than accept a plea deal, had received a 17-year sentence after being convicted on all 53 counts against him. Legal analysts, citing federal guidelines, had predicted sentences of 15 years and up. But Berrigan had wide latitude In sentencing, and she cited Nagin's age (58) as part of her decision.
Nagin family members had arrived from Lafayette Square and entered the courthouse via the Poydras Street back door, while Nagin pulled up to the front door. The hallway outside Berrigan's courtroom was full before the doors opened at 9:30 a.m., and the sentencing hearing began shortly before 10 a.m. Berrigan greeted and shook hands with Nagin's family in the front row.
Nagin, wearing a dark suit and splotchy red tie and a new trim salt-and-pepper beard, thanked Berrigan and court staff members. "As far as my role in this, we stand by" previous memorandums and testimonies, Nagin said.
Berrigan said compared to cronies Greg Meffert and Frank Fradella, Nagin had a "much smaller share" in conspiracy schemes, though all were "equal participants." The schemes, she said, were "simple."
Prosecutor Matt Coman requested that Nagin — who he said had "sold his office over and over again" — receive a "significant sentence."
"We should not accept such public corruption as a way of life," Coman said.
Before issuing the 10-year sentence, Berrigan said the sentence would be "sufficient but not greater than necessary" and that the "seriousness of the offenses cannot be overstated." Berrigan condemned the city's persistent corruption and hoped the sentence should serve as an example, and added that Nagin "abandoned his integrity" after Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods when the city needed his leadership most. Berrigan also praised Nagin as a family man and his "genuine through infrequent" care for the city.
Berrigan added that Nagin's crimes were not motivated by "conventional greed" but by a "need to impress," a less "blameworthy" crime.
Nagin left federal court with his attorney, Robert Jenkins, choosing not to make a statement.
It was the final chapter in public life for Nagin. A surprise candidate who emerged from a crowded pack of mayoral contenders in 2002, Nagin enjoyed support from the New Orleans business community, as well as many of the city's elite. That changed during his first term, particularly after Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods, where his performance largely was viewed as feckless at best and buffoonish at worst. His reelection in 2006 depended heavily on a group that he didn't court during his first election: working-class African American voters. But he eventually became unpopular throughout the city, and his remark about New Orleans once again becoming a "chocolate city" made him a national punchline. University of New Orleans political scientist Dr. Ed Chervenak found that Nagin had a 24 percent approval rating during his last year in office — down from 80 percent in his first year.
After leaving office, Nagin attempted to set himself up as a disaster recovery expert and speaker, and self-published what he said was the first book of his memoirs, Katrina's Secrets
. But the disaster recovery business seemed to have little success, and the second book never materialized. Since his February conviction, Nagin has lived quietly at his family's home in Frisco, Texas, just outside Dallas.
More on Ray Nagin from Gambit
Ray Nagin: the Blur (May 11, 2009)
Okay, now we know. Now we know exactly why New Orleans' "recovery" is taking so long. It's because our mayor has been disengaged from the get-go.
By Clancy DuBos
The Nagin Effect (Dec. 7, 2009)
New Orleans' hugely unpopular, term-limited incumbent still factors into the mayor's race — as a reverse barometer
By Clancy DuBos
Ray Nagin to publish Katrina's Secrets, the first volume of his memoirs (May 3, 2011)
Former Mayor announces memoir on Twitter.
By Kevin Allman
Review: Katrina's Secrets (June 22, 2011)
Nagin has said he self-published the book in order to ensure his voice remained intact on the page, and it’s certainly there; you can practically hear him reading it aloud.
By Kevin Allman
Ray Nagin indicted (Jan. 28, 2013)
A federal grand jury returned a 21 count indictment against former Mayor Ray Nagin this morning at federal court in downtown New Orleans.
By Charles Maldonado
Ray Nagin: The final chapter (Oct. 28, 2013)
The final act for the former mayor — if he ever goes to trial.
By Clancy DuBos & Joe Raspanti
Nagin guilty in corruption trial (Feb. 12, 2014)
Former mayor found guilty of 20 of 21 federal charges against him.
By Kevin Allman & Alex Woodward