Frank Fradella, former Mayor Ray Nagin’s leading bribe-payer and later one of the most devastating witnesses against him, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison on Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan.
Under a plea deal with the government signed in 2012, Fradella faced a maximum of five years.
He was the last figure in the Nagin corruption case to be sentenced, and his punishment is the same as that doled out to Rodney Williams, another star witness against the former mayor.
Fradella’s payoffs to Nagin never got him the big score he was after: a contract to oversee a big redevelopment project, perhaps of the decrepit Market Street power plant or the flooded Six Flags amusement park.
But showering the mayor with cash and free granite for his family’s countertop business allowed Fradella to become a key witness in the 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.
After the hearing, Fradella’s lawyer, Randy Smith, said he was pleased with the mercy shown by Morgan, who noted that federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of 57 months in prison.
Prosecutors sought a reduction based on what they described as “invaluable” cooperation from Fradella, who was the first crucial witness to turn state’s evidence.
“Having worked public corruption cases for too long, I have yet to run into a cooperator who was as helpful as Mr. Fradella,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens told the judge.
He added: “Mr. Fradella’s cooperation came at a critical juncture … and it allowed us to fully expose the depth of the corruption that was being carried out by Mayor Ray Nagin.”
Pickens noted that public corruption cases can be extremely difficult to put together, and they often require help from guilty parties.
“Without his cooperation, we might never have gotten off the ground” against Nagin, Pickens said.
Smith called his client a “symbol of why crime does not pay,” saying the former CEO is bankrupt, discredited and “completely remorseful.”
Fradella, looking tanned and relaxed in a dark suit, also gave a short speech. He said his parents always told him that “a wrong is a wrong, and there’s no excuses for a wrong. … There’s no excuse for my actions.
“I realize I will have to deal with this for the rest of my life. I truly hope I can help my own children be a better person than I was myself.”
Morgan said she was trying to craft a sentence that reflected Fradella’s cooperation as well as the seriousness of his crime. “I’m aware of a need to punish Mr. Fradella and provide a clear message that corruption at the highest level of government will not be tolerated,” she said.
Fradella will not have to pay restitution, though he must pay a fine of $10,000.
Morgan directed him to surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons in 60 days. She said she would recommend that he be sent to a prison camp in Pensacola, Florida, as Fradella has requested.
Fradella, who lives in Covington, was the CEO of a company called Home Solutions of America that specialized in disaster recovery. After Hurricane 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 issued news releases — some of them bogus — about those contracts and others in an effort to pump up Home Solutions’ stock value, and he managed to dump thousands of shares at a profit before the stock tanked.
In the years after Katrina, Nagin and Fradella often met at City Hall or in Fradella’s nearby office — meetings that Nagin later sought to hide from the news media by redacting them from his calendar.
In 2012, Fradella admitted he had funneled roughly $200,000 in cash and gifts to Nagin over several years, including $112,500 in nine monthly “consulting payments” he made to the mayor after his exit from City Hall.
Fradella also testified to providing the Nagin family’s business with two truckloads of free granite and $50,000 in cash that was routed through a trust belonging to the daughter of Michael McGrath, another crook who testified against Nagin and got his sentence cut as a result.
In return for the bribes, Nagin vouched for Fradella with bankers, helping him land a $40 million line of credit, and the mayor tried to help him get a bigger redevelopment contract, Fradella said — though it never materialized.
Fradella was indicted in the Home Solutions stock-fraud scheme by federal authorities in Texas in 2011, roughly a year before he was charged in connection with bribing Nagin. The deal he cut with the government allowed him to resolve both cases at once.
Fradella pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and one count of false certification of financial reports, each of which carries a maximum penalty of five years. His plea deal specified that whatever sentences he received would be served concurrently.
Nagin began serving a 10-year sentence in Texarkana, Texas, in September.
Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter, @gordonrussell1.