This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, July 11, 2014:
When his sentence of 10 years in federal prison for corruption while mayor of New Orleans was announced on Wednesday, some wondered if Ray Nagin would make it into the top ten most corrupt mayors in history.
He might have done better if the court was giving out prizes for play-acting innocence or for hypocrisy. When he learned where he was going to be spending the next 10 years, Nagin claimed he was framed:
In my opinion I’ve been targeted, smeared, tarnished … for some reason some of the stances I took after Katrina didn’t sit well with some very powerful people. So now I’m paying the price for that.
The prosecutors were fairly magical in their ability to take something that supposedly happened and paint it as reality when it didn’t really happen.
The fact that the cronies who had been buying his influence for years admitted guilt with some of them even testifying against him in court really didn’t count as far as Nagin was concerned. He was framed. People just didn’t understand.
His lawyers didn’t have a prayer, with one of them saying “We did the best we could with what we had,” which wasn’t much. It didn’t help any that Nagin refused to take any responsibility for his criminal conduct, either. To the jurors, his testimony made him appear to be smug – hardly the look of innocence one would normally expect when one is trying to avoid jail time.
Nagin’s hypocrisy wasn’t on trial, thank goodness. When he first became mayor back in 2002 one of the first things he did was to clean house. He made a big deal out of finding corruption and sending the corruptocrats off to the pokey. One remembers live television shots of members of the previous administration being led away in handcuffs. One remembers Nagin being asked if he would arrest his cousin who happened to be implicated in the corruption. Said Nagin: “If he’s guilty, arrest him.” He was, and they did.
It was all downhill from there. When Katrina hit in late August 2005, business owners in the repair and restoration business headed for New Orleans like flies to a barnyard. With cash in hand, they were ready to deal, and so was Nagin. It took several years, well into his second term, before his façade of credibility and honesty began to fade. In fact, charges weren’t brought until after he left his post in 2010.
When they were all tallied up, however, the charges totaled some $500,000 in cash and “benefits” he had received in exchange for directing some $5 million of restoration projects to his newly purchased friends. In reporting on the case, the Wall Street Journal was relentless:
A federal jury … convicted Mr. Nagin, a Democrat who was mayor from 2002 until 2010, of 20 counts including bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and filing false tax returns….
Prosecutors accused Mr. Nagin of trading city business for cash, trips, and favors.
How does his punishment stand up when compared to punishments meted out to brother mayors found guilty of dipping their pen into the well of trust and good will granted them by voters and taxpayers?
Modest. Nowhere near a record.
He should have gotten at least 20 years, demanded the prosecution. Said Matthew Coman, assistant US Attorney and lead prosecutor in the case against Nagin:
[Mr. Nagin’s testimony was] a performance that can only be summed up by his astounding unwillingness to accept any responsibility….
These repeated violations, at the expense of the citizens of New Orleans in a time when honest leadership was needed most, do not deserve leniency.
What Ray Nagin did was sell his office over and over and over again. The damage that Ray Nagin inflicted upon this community … is incalculable. We as a community need not and should be accept public corruption.
But how does this stack up against the competition?
There’s Patrick Cannon, who served just five months as mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina before being arrested and charged with accepting bribes totaling nearly $50,000.
There’s Kwame Kilpatrick, former mayor of Detroit, who is now serving 28 years in a federal iron bar motel for mail fraud, wire fraud, and racketeering.
There’s Bob Filner, who served as San Diego’s mayor for less than a year before he got caught harassing (not the proper word but this is a family-friendly blog) three unnamed females for which he could have served five years. He plea-bargained his way out of that, serving instead just three months under house arrest.
There’s Larry Langford who served as mayor of Birmingham, Alabama at the time the city declared itself bankrupt in the largest (up until then) bankruptcy in American history – $4 billion. Detroit’s bankruptcy soon landed it on the top of that list. Langford is now serving 15 years after being charged with 60 counts (count ’em!) of violating federal corruption laws.
There’s “Buddy” Cianci, who set some kind of record by being elected mayor of Providence, Rhode Island twice, and being forced to resign, twice, due to corruption charges. After serving four years behind bars, Cianci has just now announced his candidacy to run for – you guessed it – mayor of Providence. Third time’s a charm.
But the competition for top (or bottom) spot on the list of mayors most likely to spend time behind bars gets really hot when one considers the on-again, off-again mayorship of Marion Barry of Washington, DC. His celebrity status was guaranteed back in 1990 when he was videotaped smoking crack cocaine. For that he spent six months in federal prison.
But all that did was encourage the man. Upon his release he ran for – and was elected to – the DC city council. Three years later he was elected mayor of DC, where he compiled a record of corruption and fraud that takes three closely spaced pages on Wikipedia just to review.
Barry’s corruption even got the attention of, and criticism from, of all places, that bastion of truth, justice, and righteousness: the Washington Post. The Post put one of their top people onto Barry’s case – Pulitzer Prize-winner Colbert King – who nearly ran out of words to describe what he found:
Barry, however, is in a category of his own.
In fact, the four-term-mayor-turned-council-member is so far out there he may function in an alternate reality.
How else to explain how someone convicted of possessing crack cocaine in a federal bust seen around the world, who served six months in prison, who has been sentenced to three years’ probation for failing to file and pay federal and local taxes, who has been slapped with federal liens because of unpaid taxes, who has been censured twice by the council for misconduct and who has leveled racist remarks against Asian Americans and slurs against Poles . . . still functions as if his universe is so superior to ours that he is free to recidivate to a fare-thee-well.
When looking at the nags in this horse race, Nagin comes in close to dead last. The competition for most corrupt mayor in the country is just too tough.
Wall Street Journal: New Orleans Ex-Mayor Ray Nagin Sentenced to 10 Years
The New American: Jefferson County’s Inevitable Bankruptcy