Frank Fradella, the smooth-talking CEO and con man who cozied up to Mayor Ray Nagin, first becoming his principal bribe-payer and later one of the most devastating witnesses against him, will learn his fate Wednesday from U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan.
Under a plea deal with the government signed in 2012, Fradella faces a maximum of five years in prison. He is the last figure in the Nagin corruption case to be sentenced.
Fradella’s steady bribing of Nagin never got him the payoff he wanted: a huge government contract, perhaps to redevelop the decrepit Market Street power plant.
But showering the mayor with cash and free granite for his family’s granite countertop business paid off in a way Fradella likely never anticipated: It allowed him to become a star witness in the government’s case against Nagin and to make a lot of his own problems — ones that had nothing to do with the mayor — go away in the process.
Fradella is one of four convicts who found themselves in that enviable position. The three others have already gotten their rewards. They include:
Greg Meffert, Nagin’s former chief technology officer, who admitted taking roughly $860,000 in bribes from his friend, City Hall technology vendor Mark St. Pierre, who had benefited from millions of dollars in contracts awarded by Meffert. Under a plea deal, Meffert faced a maximum of eight years; he wound up getting only three after his testimony against Nagin.
Michael McGrath, a New Jersey mortgage broker who was three years into a 14-year sentence for an audacious $140 million fraud scheme when he testified against Nagin, clad in an orange jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists. Thanks to his cooperation, McGrath’s sentence was recently trimmed in half at the request of prosecutors. He’s now eligible for release in 2017.
Mark St. Pierre, the City Hall tech vendor and Meffert pal who was convicted on 53 bribery and fraud counts at trial in 2011 and sentenced to 17½ years. Though he didn’t testify against Nagin, he cooperated with investigators and saw his sentence reduced to five years after the trial. He could get out next year.
Fradella, a New Orleans native who lives in Covington, was the CEO of a company called Home Solutions of America that specialized in disaster recovery. After Katrina, the firm got numerous contracts in and around New Orleans worth tens of millions of dollars, many of them awarded by the Nagin administration.
Fradella was issuing news releases about those contracts and others in an effort to pump up Home Solutions’ stock value. It would later emerge that some of the announcements were bogus, but Fradella was able to dump thousands of shares at a profit before the stock eventually collapsed and was delisted.
Nagin and Fradella became close during that time, with the two meeting often at City Hall or in Fradella’s office across Poydras Street. Those meetings were blacked out when Nagin released a copy of his electronic calendar to the press — redactions that prosecutors highlighted at his trial.
When he pleaded guilty in 2012, Fradella admitted he had funneled roughly $200,000 in cash and gifts to Nagin over several years, including $112,500 in “consulting payments” he 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 $50,000 in cash that was routed through a trust belonging to McGrath’s daughter.
While Fradella got plenty of work from City Hall during Nagin’s tenure, the contracts he won were all on a low-bid basis, and there was no evidence presented at Nagin’s 2014 trial that the bids were rigged.
That left open the question of why he funneled so much money to the mayor. Fradella testified that he was angling for a major deal, and he considered it crucial to have Nagin in his corner. Among the projects that Home Solutions was hoping to land were the redevelopment of the Market Street power plant, a proposed NASCAR track on the site of the old Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans East and the new public hospital complex in Mid-City.
As it happened, the only one of those projects that got off the ground was the last one, and Home Solutions got no part of it.
While Fradella never got the big score he was looking for, he testified that Nagin did help him in other ways. Most significantly, he said, Nagin helped him get a $40 million line of credit for Home Solutions by vouching for the firm.
Fradella was indicted in the Home Solutions stock-fraud scheme by federal authorities in Texas before he was charged in connection with bribing Nagin. With the help of his lawyer, Randy Smith, he cut a deal in 2012 allowing him to resolve both cases at once.
Fradella will be sentenced Wednesday on one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and one count of false certification of financial reports. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years, and Fradella’s plea deal specifies that whatever sentences he receives will be served concurrently.
Nagin is serving a 10-year sentence in Texarkana, Texas.
Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter @gordonrussell1.