Former Mayor Ray Nagin asks court for leniency _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Former Mayor Ray Nagin prepares to enter the federal courthouse on Poydras Street on Feb. 20, 2013, where he tendered a not-guilty plea to 21 corruption counts. He is accompanied by his attorney, Robert Jenkins.

The attorney for former Mayor Ray Nagin is asking a federal judge for leniency when Nagin is sentenced July 2, calling the recommended punishment contained in a sealed report compiled by probation officers a “virtual life sentence” for the 58-year-old ex-mayor.

The motion by Nagin’s lawyer, Robert Jenkins, does not say what punishment is outlined in the presentence investigation, although it hints that the “low end” of the recommendation is about 20 years.

Jenkins argues that Nagin is a first-time offender with no criminal past and “a completely sterling record,” and that the “totality of circumstances” calls for a much lighter punishment than is recommended in the report.

Jenkins’ motion never concedes that Nagin — who has maintained his innocence in the face of his February conviction on 20 of 21 corruption counts — ever crossed the line into criminality, referring to his misdeeds as “alleged conduct.” But even if the mayor did go astray, as the jury found, the motion argues that he never meant to do so.

“It is hard for those who know him, both close friends and family and others, to believe that Mr. Nagin was even capable of having the criminal intent to commit the crimes for which he was convicted,” the motion says. “The allegations in the indictment, as well as the government’s evidence at trial, are a complete aberration to his otherwise outstanding life as a businessman, family member and citizen.”

Nagin was convicted for, among other crimes, taking bribes from several businessmen who sought his help in getting city contracts. Jenkins argues that the money Nagin took “came from sources outside of city government and tax dollars,” and adds that the mayor “sought legal counsel” before taking the money and was never told the payments were improper.

The motion also calls Nagin “a devoted father, husband and supportive child to his parents,” adding that if the recommended sentence is imposed, Nagin’s teenage daughter “will essentially grow up without a father.”

The motion cites “numerous character letters” sent to the court on Nagin’s behalf; those letters have not been posted in the court docket.

Nagin is set to be sentenced July 2 by U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan.

While the report recommending a sentencing range for Nagin is sealed, lawyers familiar with federal sentencing guidelines have said it likely calls for a sentence of between 15 and 20 years.

Jenkins’ motion suggested the range could be even higher. He noted the 10-year sentence meted out to former Gov. Edwin Edwards, which “involved much larger amounts of fraud and bribery,” and said Edwards’ punishment was “approximately one-half of the low end” of what Nagin’s presentence report suggests.

In addition to prison time, Nagin also is facing stiff financial punishment.

Berrigan last month ordered Nagin to forfeit $501,000 — the amount prosecutors calculated he had received in ill-gotten gains — to the federal government. She also is likely to order him to pay restitution to the government when imposing his sentence.

Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter, @gordonrussell1.