Federal prosecutors scoffed at the argument.
"We have a case chock full of bribes, official acts and concealment," Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens told a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
There was no indication when the panel would rule. Nagin, who has adamantly insisted that he did nothing wrong, is serving a 10-year sentence and did not attend the arguments. Several of his family members were present.
Nagin, a Democrat who served from 2002 to 2010, was convicted on charges of wire fraud, bribery, money laundering and filing false tax returns. Prosecutors say graft in his administration began before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and flourished afterward. Bribes included money, free vacations and truckloads of free granite for his family business.
Jordan Siverd, a public defender representing the now-financially destitute ex-mayor, focused most of his argument on the contention that U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan erred in instructions to the jury regarding federal fraud counts. Jurors should not have been told they should convict Nagin for taking actions he would have legally taken even if he hadn't been bribed to do so.
"Claiming later that you would have performed the same act anyway has never been an excuse," Pickens countered in his rebuttal.
Siverd also argued against forfeiture orders requiring Nagin to turn over some $500,000 that prosecutors said he gained illegally. Prosecutors say the forfeiture order was proper.
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