Federal prosecutor Matthew Coman spent 42 minutes reading the government’s indictment of former Mayor Ray Nagin aloud to the jury. Most of it was taken up on the first count alone - a conspiracy charge that covers 59 “overt acts” and names most of the characters who allegedly ladled cash, granite and luxury trips on Nagin and his family while in office.
That was just the warm-up.
Coman then launched into his opening statement in the former mayor’s long-awaited trial shortly after 2:30 p.m., attacking Nagin as a thoroughly corrupt politician who solicited bribes from numerous city contractors, laundered money and even employed his two sons, Jeremy and Jarin Nagin, as bag men for payoffs.
In a pitch to the jury that ran close to an hour, Coman flashed photos, charts, emails, plane tickets, invoices and mug shots on a courtroom screen to illustrate the alleged conspiracy scheme.
The backdrop for many of the exhibits: a dusky image of City Hall.
“Corruption was alive and well in this building, New Orleans City Hall, 2004 to 2010, right down the street,” Coman said. “The evidence presented in this trial will show Ray Nagin was a corrupt mayor pure and simple. He swore an oath to serve the public. Instead, he chose to serve himself.”
Coman proceeded to take the jury down a sordid memory lane of alleged corruption, listing much of it in chronological order, the vast bulk of the alleged conspiracy taking place after Hurricane Katrina.
In exchange for promises of lucrative business, Nagin asked for tens of thousands of dollars from businessmen seeking city contracts or, in the case of businessman Frank Fradella, Nagin’s endorsement with major corporate financiers, Coman said.
The prosecutor posted documents indicating 10 separate meetings with Fradella and others in 2007 and 2008, some of them with banks. One was a press conference to tout the work of Fradella’s company, Home Solutions of America. Another was a fact-finding trip to Panama.
“But all this help from Ray Nagin came at a price. Ray Nagin wanted Fradella to come up with $100,000, and he wanted it funneled to Stone Age LLC,” the countertop firm Nagin set up with his sons. That firm later won favored status with Home Depot, allegedly thanks to Nagin crushing the neighborhood’s insistence that the company hire local residents for the Central City store.
“Fradella said, ‘I can come up with $50,000.”
Coman laid out a scheme between Fradella and a partner, Mark McGrath, to funnel $50,000 through a trust account for McGrath’s daughter.
The prosecutor pointed to the shipments of free granite that prosecutors alleged went from Fradella’s company in Tampa, Fla., to Stone Age as a bribe.
“In the end, Mayor Ray Nagin got what he asked for” in granite and cash,” Coman said. “And as lagniappe, Nagin got Fradella and business associates to set up Nagin with post-City Hall income.”
That included more than $110,000 in nine separate wire payments aimed at hiding payoffs, according to the indictment.
Coman then moved on to other contractors, including Rodney Williams, Bassam Mekari, and Tarek Elnaggar, all of whom have admitted to the alleged bribery scheme.
All told, Coman said Nagin got more than $500,000 in benefits over several years of taking money in exchange for his backing on major city contracts.
Most of those allegedly involved in the conspiracy — including former city technology contractor Mark St. Pierre and former city technology czar Greg Meffert — have pleaded guilty already.
Nagin, he suggested, should get his own comeuppance..
“Ray Nagin took money and things of value from these city contractors because he wanted more than his paycheck and felt he was entitled to it,” Coman said.
“Now’s the time for the defendant, Ray Nagin, to be held personally accountable for his own criminal conduct.”