AP News

Jury to resume deliberations in ex-mayor's case

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jury deliberations in the complex 21-count criminal case against former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin were set to resume Tuesday after an overnight break.

The jury broke for the evening Monday after hearing closing arguments in the morning and deliberating for more than three hours in the afternoon. They were expected to get back to work on the case Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors claim Nagin took bribes worth more than $500,000 in a string of alleged crimes that began before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and continued during the recovery from the catastrophic storm.

Defense attorney Robert Jenkins said the prosecution misled jurors with a case largely built on testimony from businessmen who entered plea deals in the case and told prosecutors what they wanted to hear in hopes of getting light sentences.

The trial opened with jury selection Jan. 27 and was interrupted for two days when a blast of icy weather hit the deep South. Jurors heard seven days of testimony. Among more than two dozen prosecution witnesses were five who said they were involved in bribing the former mayor.

The alleged graft included money, free vacation travel and truckloads of granite for Stone Age LLC, a business Nagin and his sons owned.

Nagin himself, a Democrat who served two terms from 2002-2010, was the chief defense witness. He vehemently denied taking bribes. He said he was duty-bound to OK contracts awarded to low-bidders or through a process in which committees recommended contractors and denied that the contracts were tied in any way to money, materials or favors he or his family business received.

He said he thought his former technology chief, Greg Meffert, had paid for vacation trips to Hawaii and Jamaica when, it turned out, they were financed by convicted businessman Mark St. Pierre.

Meffert, testifying under a plea agreement, said Nagin knew who was paying for the trips.

Nagin also denied realizing that an airplane ride to New York had been arranged by a movie theater owner who wanted a tax break from the city, a claim prosecutors said was disproved by an email thanking the businessman after the trip was arranged.

Nagin said alleged bribes from businessmen Rodney Williams and Frank Fradella — including money from both men and free granite from Fradella — were actually legitimate investments.

He also denied allegations that he pressured executives from The Home Depot to steer work to his family business while he helped the retailer with details related to the opening of a store in post-Katrina New Orleans.

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