When Ray Nagin was elected mayor of New Orleans in 2002, there was real hope that he was a break from the city's sleazy past.
Three years later, with his city awash in foul water and rotting corpses, he became something of a national cult hero, raging against the slow, incompetent federal response to his crippled city's plight.
"Excuse my French — everybody in America — but I am pissed," he shouted during a radio appearance three days after Hurricane Katrina swamped the Crescent City.
In the end, though, Ray Nagin turned out to be a feckless mayor and, as a federal judge saw it, a lightweight criminal. "He started out as a rock star and he ended up as just another crass, corrupt politician," said University of New Orleans Political Science Professor Ed Chervenak.
Nagin, a 58-year-old former cable television manager, was sentenced to 10 years in prison Wednesday for bribery, money laundering, fraud and tax violations stemming from his two terms as New Orleans' mayor from 2002-2010.
Prosecutors had been pushing for a sentence in the neighborhood of 20 years for Nagin. U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan acknowledged the seriousness of the charges, including the betrayal of a city at a time when it most needed a strong and honest leader.
But she also cast Nagin as something less than a kingpin. She noted that some of the businessmen involved in bribing him won millions of dollars in city business. Nagin is believed to have cleared only about a half million — in money, free trips, granite for a foundering family business — over his eight years.
"Mr. Nagin was not the organizer or leader of the group," Berrigan said. At times, she said, the crimes appeared to be motivated by a desire to impress and provide for his loved ones, something "less than ordinary greed."
And she said there were times when Nagin demonstrated "a genuine if all too infrequent" desire to help a city knocked on its heels after Katrina's levee breaches and catastrophic flooding.
Nagin, a Democrat, was found guilty in February on 20 counts. He was arrested in January 2013, three years after he left office. He was charged with taking bribes from men looking for city business ranging from software supplies to sidewalk repair. Many of the schemes took place after Hurricane Katrina, when contractors crowded into the city.
Many of those involved pleaded guilty and testified against Nagin.
Contributing: New York Times