Published February 05, 2014
NEW ORLEANS – Federal prosecutors rested their corruption case Wednesday against former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, leaving it to defense lawyers to counter five days of testimony from more than two dozen witnesses, including five who said they were involved in bribing Nagin.
Nagin served as mayor from 2002 to 2010. Prosecutors allege that corruption spanned the two terms and included the period after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, when contractors sought to benefit from potentially lucrative rebuilding jobs in the devastated city.
The final prosecution witness was Josephine Beninati, a financial analyst for the U.S. Attorney's Office, who discussed her examination of documents indicating Nagin got $511,000 in money, travel, cellular phone service, granite for his family business and other benefits. Prosecutors say it was all bribes the Democrat took during and after his two terms in office.
Defense lawyer Robert Jenkins has tried to attack the credibility of witnesses testifying under plea agreements. And he has said there is no direct proof indicating Nagin traded benefits for money or services.
Cross examining Beninati, he questioned why she characterized payments from various contractors as bribes when they could easily be seen as investments. He focused often on payments from lead prosecution witness Rodney Williams, saying Williams — prior to pleading guilty in the case — had once claimed his payments to Nagin's family business were investments rather than bribes.
He also asked Beninati whether she misled jurors by displaying a chart indicating payments from Williams to Stone Age LLC — a Nagin family company — were made to Nagin himself.
"Mr. Nagin is Stone Age," Beninati said at one point.
It is unclear whether Nagin will testify in his own defense. The trial recessed for the day Wednesday afternoon after the defense called one witness, contractor Bill Edwards, who has done business with the city and who, under questioning from Jenkins, downplayed the role of the mayor in contracts awarded through public bids.
Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors called an investigative reporter to the stand to testify that Nagin tried to hide evidence of his meetings with businessmen who say they bribed the politician to get city backing for their projects.
Television reporter Lee Zurik talked about efforts to obtain Nagin's meeting calendars from 2008. Initially, he received pages with entries blacked out or blank. Under orders from a judge, Zurik said, WWL television was given a calendar with entries showing numerous meetings at different times with businessmen including Frank Fradella and Williams. Both men have said they bribed Nagin.
Zurik, now with WVUE in New Orleans, testified about Freedom of Information Act requests and a lawsuit that eventually led to the release of an un-redacted version of Nagin's meeting calendar.
In cross examination, defense lawyer Robert Jenkins said the city turned over the calendars, making the point that there was no evidence that Nagin made the changes.
Kathleen Allen, an attorney an official with the Louisiana Board of Ethics, later testified that Nagin failed to turn over various documents related to a board of investigation into the granite company he and his family owned.
Earlier Wednesday, IRS agent Tim Moore returned to the stand for cross examination by Jenkins.
On Tuesday, Moore had outlined allegations that Nagin failed to report income from various sources on his tax returns, including payments that Moore characterized as bribes.
Jenkins repeatedly noted the lack of voice or video recordings proving that bribes were paid.
Prosecutors began presenting their case last week, calling former city contractors and other witnesses and producing numerous emails and documents aimed at proving the former mayor received money, free vacation travel and free granite for his family business— bribes worth more than $500,000 — for helping contractors receive millions of dollars' worth of city work.