The sad remainders of the Ray Nagin era were settled in U.S. District Court with the sentencing of Frank Fradella, bag man to the mayor who thought he was a rock star and ended up in the pen for petty corruption.
Fradella was a devastating witness against Nagin, who is now serving a 10-year sentence. The New Orleans businessman who paid most of the bribes was sentenced to a year and a day in prison on Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan.
Under a plea deal with the government signed in 2012, Fradella faced a maximum of five years in prison. He was the last figure in the Nagin corruption case to be sentenced, and his punishment is the same as the one doled out to Rodney Williams, another star witness who testified against the mayor.
As the case wound its way through the courts, the people of New Orleans had a right to feel betrayed by Nagin and his cronies. But it is one of the ironies of the case that Fradella’s faithful payoffs to Nagin never got him the big score he was after: a huge contract to oversee a redevelopment, perhaps of the decrepit Market Street power plant or the flooded Six Flags amusement park.
Showering the mayor with “gifts” and free granite for his family’s countertop business was a symptom of the rot that ran through Nagin’s City Hall, even as a deeply wounded community needed every bit of leadership and integrity that the mayor ought to have offered.
The wages of sin came to about $200,000 in cash and gifts over several years, including $112,500 in nine monthly “consulting payments” Fradella made to the mayor after his exit from City Hall. Fradella also testified to providing the Nagin family’s granite business with two truckloads of free granite and other payments of $50,000 in cash through a third party.
In return, Nagin vouched for Fradella with bankers, helping him land a $40 million line of credit, and he tried to help him get a bigger redevelopment contract, Fradella said — though none ever materialized.
Fradella pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and one count of false certification of financial reports, each of which carries a maximum penalty of five years.
Failure at double-dealing was rarely so comprehensive or expensive. But the real price was paid by the people of Nagin’s city and state who looked to him for guidance and saw instead a huckstering prima-donna in one of the great crises of the 300-year history of New Orleans.