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The corruption case against former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, the city's chief executive 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, hoping for lighter sentences from the federal government.
U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan read lengthy instructions to jurors, who then headed to a separate room to have lunch and await the delivery of documents. Deliberations began mid-afternoon.
The 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. The alleged corruption spanned his two terms as mayor from 2002-2010, 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 U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens said in closing arguments, recapping testimony and evidence presented over seven days of testimony that ended Friday.
Nagin 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.
"SEC violations, convictions, charged with lying in a federal matter," Jenkins said, running through a list of the problems faced by one key witness, convicted businessman Frank Fradella. "This is another of their star witnesses."