NO.Nagin.021114 (copy)

Advocate staff file photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Former Mayor Ray Nagin at his corruption trial in February 2014.

John McCusker

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday filed a 48-page retort to Ray Nagin's latest bid to vacate his conviction and 10-year prison sentence, arguing that the former New Orleans mayor has miscast or wildly stretched a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that tightened the definition of political bribery.

Nagin, who was convicted on 20 of 21 federal counts in 2014, filed his latest challenge on his own behalf last year from a federal prison work camp in Texas. He said his conviction should be tossed out on the same grounds that freed former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

In McDonnell’s case, the U.S. Supreme Court said merely setting up meetings or making introductions to people does not count as an “official act” in bribery cases. The ruling set a precedent that has led to the release of other convicted politicians, including former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson of New Orleans last year.

Ex-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin files new legal challenge to his conviction

Nagin, 61, has asked for a new trial or at least to have some of the charges against him thrown out and his sentence reduced. He argued, for one thing, that nothing he did for Covington businessman Frank Fradella, his most prolific source of payments, amounted to an illegal quid pro quo.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens argued that the McDonnell ruling doesn't apply at all to 11 of the counts on which a jury convicted Nagin, including conspiracy, tax fraud, money laundering and even some bribery charges.

For the rest, Nagin "neglects to acknowledge that deciding to award city contracts, awarding city contracts, executing city contracts, and providing favorable official action on pending city business qualify as 'official acts' under" the McDonnell decision, Pickens wrote.

He also noted that, unlike McDonnell and Jefferson, Nagin never objected to the definition of an "official act" that was given to the jury at his trial. When he did raise the issue with the U.S. Supreme Court, the high court declined to entertain his appeal.

The U.S. Attorney's Office also discounted Nagin's claims that his trial was marred by prosecutorial misconduct and fatally flawed lawyering.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo is overseeing the appeal. Nagin is due for release in 2023.  

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432