NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told a jury Thursday that he didn't know a one-time city vendor paid for his family's vacation to Hawaii in 2004, a trip that prosecutors have cast as one of several bribes Nagin accepted in exchange for awarding city work during his two terms in office.
Nagin's testimony came a day after prosecutors rested their case, having called more than two dozen witnesses, including five who said they were involved in bribing the former mayor. Nagin's 21-count indictment accuses him of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes — including money, trips and truckloads of free granite for his family business — for helping contractors secure city business.
"If anything, Greg said he was paying for" the trip, Nagin said, referring to Greg Meffert, his former technology chief.
Meffert has pleaded guilty in the Nagin corruption case and is awaiting sentencing. He testified last week that Nagin was aware that Mark St. Pierre and his NetMethods company paid for the Hawaii trip. St. Pierre was convicted of bribery and other charges in 2011.
Nagin served as mayor from 2002 to 2010. Prosecutors allege that his 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.
Defense attorney Robert Jenkins began by walking Nagin through various aspects of the government's case with testimony that, early on, touched on the Democrat's one-time image as a reformer and political outsider when he was elected to succeed Marc Morial.
Nagin outlined executive orders he issued providing for a committee to evaluate professional service contracts for the city and said he had no role in the committee's decisions.
"I wanted to avoid complaints like the previous administration had had, that you got work based on who you knew," said Nagin, who appeared calm and comfortable on the stand.
Nagin sought to put a more innocent spin on what prosecutors have tried to establish as evidence of his corruption. He accepted a free private plane ride to Chicago for a Saints playoff game in early 2007 because flights out of New Orleans were still hard to arrange in the months after Katrina hit. He insisted that no business was discussed on the private plane of Frank Fradella, nor was it discussed in Chicago.
"Everybody was excited about the Saints," Nagin said.
Nagin's indictment says the flight was a "payoff" from Fradella, who has pleaded guilty in the case and testified that he bribed Nagin with cash and free granite for a foundering Nagin family granite business, Stone Age LLC.
Stone Age also figured in the testimony of the prosecution's first witness, Rodney Williams. He told jurors when testimony began last week that he was first approached by Nagin's two sons, and later by Nagin himself, about paying the money to help support the Nagin's family-owned granite company.
While Williams said the $60,000 he paid constituted a bribe that led to more than $2 million in city business, Nagin said it was an investment made by Williams after Stone Age did high quality work on Williams' home.
Nagin was called to the stand late Thursday morning. Defense questioning and prosecution cross-examination was expected to be lengthy.
Earlier Thursday, prosecutors elicited testimony from a defense witness that executive orders issued by Nagin in 2008 and 2009 gave him more leeway to select contractors on city projects.
Brenda Hatfield, the city's chief administrative officer under Nagin, testified that she knew of no influence Nagin exerted in the awarding of contracts.
However, under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens, she read from two executive orders Nagin issued in 2008 and 2009. The first broadened his authority to approve contractors by allowing him to choose from a long list of those ranked by the committee. The second suspended the committee process altogether.
Even before the changes, Hatfield acknowledged, Nagin's final approval was needed for the contracts.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Nick Toon are not on the same page yet, and time is running short for Toon to get it right.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister started his sign-up for re-election the same as other candidates, filling out paperwork and handing over qualifying money. But he finished it like no other, doused with ice.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Jell-o sales plummet; Hamas kills suspected informers; bodies arrive in Malaysia and more national and international news for Friday, August 22, 2014.
That’s what Lafayette Parish has obtained in Pentagon surplus since 2006.
Qualifying continues through Friday.
Local 101 class Friday
Kimonos and bells and turq galore
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Two bedroom Acadian condo or three bedroom ranch style home
The political tilt of the Senate during President Barack Obama's final two years in office is likely to hinge on a handful of female contenders in tight and costly races.
A former BP executive will be allowed to travel to the United Kingdom later this month while he awaits trial on charges relating to an investigation of the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
“Byzantine” is the word members of the nominating committee for the local flood protection authority often use to describe the complicated, multi-layered matrix of qualifications that must be met to fill a vacancy on that board.
Corned beef, melty cheese and rye bread ready for your lunchtime breakaway
Friends and family will celebrate Spider's life in September.
Saints safety Jairus Byrd has rarely been so eager to hit and be hit, if only to reassure himself that his surgically repaired back is as healed as doctors believe.
Jindal privatized nearly all the LSU hospitals without waiting for federal officials to sign off on financing arrangements that rely on millions of federal Medicaid dollars.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and her main Republican challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy, verbally sparred as they officially signed up on the opening day of qualifying for Louisiana's November election.
Superintendent tells crowd he'd just emerged from a four-hour meeting with the attorney hired to investigate him.
A hint of game day glam
The start of the three-day qualifying period for November’s elections has so far yielded 10 official bids and one new announcement from candidates seeking a seat on the school board.
The eagerness shown earlier this week by Lafayette Parish School Board president Hunter Beasley upon receiving a findings report from the special attorney investigating Superintendent Pat Cooper quickly faded once his fellow board members started asking for copies.
It’s been just over four months since attorney Barry Domingue committed suicide the morning before he was to stand trial for a second day in the federal Curious Goods case, leaving his fellow attorney/co-defendant Daniel Stanford with a temporary mistrial and awaiting his day in court.
Candidates for Louisiana's Nov. 4 election must officially sign up for the ballot this week.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's effort to derail Louisiana's use of the Common Core education standards was halted Tuesday by a state judge who said the governor's actions were harmful to parents, teachers and students.
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram isn't letting a humbling start to his pro career lower his opinion of what he can still accomplish in the NFL.
A vegan and gluten-free bakery tasty enough for any skeptic
In the Pelican State, Benjamin Franklin buys you about $109 worth of stuff.
Visualize Lafayette’s next great thing from 3,000 feet.