NEW ORLEANS — Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, was indicted by a federal grand jury Friday on 21 counts including conspiracy, bribery and money laundering.
The indictment detailed a wide-ranging scheme of kickbacks and pay-for-play of a kind not entirely unfamiliar in Louisiana history. Contractors and vendors looking for work with the city would provide the mayor with vacations, big checks and even free granite for his family business company. In exchange, they would be awarded lucrative contracts with the city, assistance in defusing community opposition to their projects and even forgiveness of tax penalties, according to the indictment. It accuses Nagin of accepting more than $200,000 in bribes.
While federal prosecutors have convicted a Louisiana governor, a congressman, a city council member and members of the school board in the past 15 years alone, this is the first time in New Orleans history that a mayor has been indicted on corruption charges.
Nagin's lawyer, Robert Jenkins, did not return a call seeking comment. However, he called a local radio talk show in the afternoon, and in response to a question from the host, John McConnell, suggested that the indictment had come as a surprise amid continuing plea negotiations.
"Well, we were surprised that the indictment came today because we were still talking with the government and in fact we had talked about meeting next week as well," he said.
But the indictment came as no surprise here in the city. The other figures alleged to have taken part in the conspiracy have either been convicted or pleaded guilty to bribery and corruption charges in the past three years.
Nagin, 56, came into office in 2002 as an outsider. It did not take long for him to develop a reputation as a man whose thoughts outpaced his actions. Still, he was re-elected in 2006, a year after Katrina.
On Friday morning, Nagin, who has been living in Frisco, Texas, reposted on his Twitter feed a message from someone else, televangelist Joel Osteen.
"You are closest to your victory," it read, "when you face the greatest opposition."