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The Price of the Abuse of Political Power: Ray Nagin, Former-Mayor of New Orleans
Nagin after the verdict.
The jury found Nagin "guilty" on 20 counts.
- 5 counts of bribery
- 9 counts of honest service wire fraud
- 1 count of money laundering conspiracy
- 1 count of conspiracy
- 4 counts of filing false tax returns.
The Verdict and the Sentence
On February 12, 2014, former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, 57, was added to a list of Louisiana elected officials convicted of crimes committed under the color of law. However, he was New Orleans' first mayor to stand trial for public corruption. The acts were committed between 2004 and 2008. Nagin was found guilty by a twelve-member jury for 20 out of 21 counts of violations of federal law. Jury deliberations lasted six and a half hours. He may be facing a 20-year prison term under the federal sentencing guidelines plus fines. Nagin’s defense attorney, Robert Jenkins, said, “I’m surprised” and promised to appeal the conviction.
Yet, on July 9, 2014, Judge Ginger Berrigan sentenced the former mayor to ten years in prison, ordered him to report to federal prison Sept. 8, and to pay restitution of $82,000. (USA Today).
Descriptions of All 21 Corruption Charges
- 21 counts: the Ray Nagin verdict scorecard | NOLA.com
Includes the maximum prison terms they carry and how the jury voted on each.
Nagin maintained his innocence after sentencing.
Do you agree with the verdict?
The Indictment of Ray Nagin
Nagin’s indictment came down on January 21, 2013. At the time, Michael Anderson, special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Orleans field office, stated the indictment of Ray Nagin “should serve as a reminder to current and former public officials that, in the interest of full accountability, the FBI pursues corruption even after an official leaves office.”
Witness preparation began on August 12, 2013. Nagin filed a motion to the dismiss the indictment but Judge Berrigan rejected Nagin’s petitions. The trial of the former New Orleans mayor was scheduled to begin in October 2013; and Nagin petitioned the court for an indefinite delay by claiming that U.S. prosecutors anonymously posted online derogatory comments about him and two other mayors of New Orleans (Sidney Barthelemy and Marc Morial, who are both African American). According to Nagin’s filing, the prosecutors' messages stated:
“You three stooges have wrought upon this city one disaster after another. This is just more evidence of your collective racism and incompetence.”
Judge Berrigan denied the request. Nagin then asked for a delay so he could properly prepare his defense, which was granted until January 27, 2014.
Judge Berrigan's decisions may have surprised some legal analysts; however, her decisions could be considered predictable. Judge Berrigan has significant experience in hearing cases involving political corruption in the New Orleans metropolitan area particularly considering she is the same judge who handled the lawsuits against neighboring St. Bernard Parish that passed unconstitutional blood-relative housing ordinances just months after Hurricane Katrina left the area decimated. Those lawsuits ended in a settlement in May 2013.
Famous Last Words
Nagin made national headlines during the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as the mayor of New Orleans. His desperation for assistance from both the federal and state government was palatable. During an interview with Garland Robinette, Nagin addressed the response of former-President George W. Bush and former Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco:
“I have no idea what they’re doing. But I will tell you this: you know, God is looking down on all this, and if they are not doing everything in their power to save people, they are going to pay the price. Because, every day that we delay, people are dying; and they’re dying by the hundreds; I'm willing to bet you.”
Garland Robinette's recalls interview with Ray Nagin during Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.
New Orleans Today
Nearly a decade later, the cleanup continues in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes affected by Katrina. Severely damaged structures still stand, people are still displaced, and many more want to return but do not have the financial means to do so or do not have access to housing. The levees are still under construction and repair, as they have been for 400 years, and many schools still have not reopened. Drive through the Lower Ninth Ward to see one closed school after another. The streets are unnervingly silent. But the greatest work yet to be completed is in the area of respecting the rights “retained by the people” and living up to our constitutional values.
Work remains in New Orleans more than 8 years after Hurricane Katrina.
- Public schools remain closed
- Severely damaged structures remain standing
- People remain displaced
- Levees are still under construction
The Price of Abuse of Political Power
When government abuses its power, there is a political philosophy that provides a right to revolution (or rebellion) to ensure the safety of all citizens. In the case of America, the best way to resolve abusive government practices is to hold political leaders to a standard of accountability through the judicial system, removing leaders through an impeachment process, or by voting in leaders who will respect basic human dignity and voting out those who do not. Not only should we do this from a moral standpoint but this is the duty of citizens in a self-governing society. In addition, citizens cannot remain complacent and must stand up to violations of their rights not only under “equal protection under law,” but under the Ninth Amendment and their powers under the Tenth Amendment. The greater necessity is to make government officials accountable for the law they create and to hold law enforcement accountable for failures to protect. Why should we not? Even under basic family law principles, parents can be held liable for abuse, neglect, and failure to protect. Therefore, it is imperative to hold government officials accountable for the same.
Louisiana (and other states) must police the actions of state and local officials to ensure two necessary objectives:
- That the actions of the local government do not conflict with state or federal law, especially Constitutional law; and
- That the actions of the local government do not violate the civil and human rights of its citizens.
Public officials currently bear personal responsibility for their own actions. Aside from citizen suits against the state, individuals who abuse their positions should be held liable under criminal and civil penalty rather than be allowed to retire on government pensions paid for by the same taxpayers they abuse. Both the government and the individuals harmed by an officials’ abuse of power should have a claim against the individual holding the office of public trust and extending beyond his or her surrender of the position.
Leaders who have inherited the unfortunate legacy of institutional discrimination have a responsibility—an overwhelming one—to work steadily to overcome it by creating transparency in government and as well as independent offices of ethics and equality. David Peralta, the current president of St. Bernard Parish, is committed to “a new wind of progress, transparency and equal treatment to all. I work hard every day to counter the negative activity of my predecessor.”
As Americans we stand at a precipice. The world’s sole hegemon and currently the world’s greatest influence, we must realize that leading by example is more important than leading by speeches or rhetoric. While some may say that we are hated by other countries because of our freedom, it might be worth considering that perhaps we are hated for our hypocrisy. We must gain a thorough understanding that if we fail to protect our own citizens and fail to garner that trust, we will fail miserably as we seek to protect citizens of the world and garner the trust of the nations of the world.
 The Times-Picayune. “Ray Nagin, former New Orleans mayor, convicted of federal corruption charges.” February 12, 2014. www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2014/02/post_370.html. Access date: March 2, 2014.
 Linderman, Juliette. “Nagin attorney vows to appeal corruption conviction.” The Times-Picayune. February 12, 2014. http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2014/02/ray_nagin_attorney_vows_to_app.html. Access date: March 2, 2014.
 The entire transcript of the interview is available at CNN: “Mayor to Feds: ‘Get off Your Asses.’ Transcript of Radio Interview with New Orleans’ Nagin.” September 2, 2005. http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/09/02/nagin.transcript/index.html. Access date: July 18, 2013.
 “C. Ray Nagin, Former New Orleans Mayor, Indicted on Federal Bribery… Charges.” U.S. Departement of Justice. See the official indictment at United States of Amerca v. C. Ray Nagin “aka Mayor Nagin. Criminal No. 13-011 http://www.justice.gov/usao/lae/news/2013/downloads/indictment_C_Ray_Nagin.pdf.
 Hammer, David. “Ex-N.O. Mayor Ray Nagin's corruption trial pushed back to 2014.” WWLTV.com. October 24, 2013. http://www.wwltv.com/news/nagin-indictment/Nagin-trial-delayed-until-Jan-27-229111321.html. Access date: December 16, 2013.
 Lugo, Liza. How Do Hurricane Katrina’s Winds Blow? Racism in 21st Century New Orleans. ABC-CLIO. 2014.
 Such political philosophy was practiced throughout human history and the present date around the world and is the basis for justifying notable rebellions including the American Revolution and the French Revolution.
 Peralta, David. Email from St. Bernard Parish president David Peralta to Liza Lugo, August 17, 2013.
By Liza Lugo, J.D.
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