A lot of you probably have questions concerning the recent indictment of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Now I know it’s frighteningly easy in our corruption-riddled state to become blasé about the latest federal indictment against a former (or current) elected official, but Nagin was supposed to be different.
Accordingly, I offer you, the dedicated readers of Uptown Messenger, the following frequently asked questions, phrased by a 1950’s stereotype, regarding the Nagin indictment:
Q: Nagin got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, eh chum?
A: That’s essentially what’s being alleged. The gist is that Nagin solicited bribes from various city contractors, specifically, Frank Fradella, Michael McGrath, Aaron Bennett, Rodney Williams, Greg Meffert, Mark St. Pierre, the mysterious Businessman “A,” and “others.”
Q: What’s the real skinny here, slim?
A: Apparently, Nagin had at least three schemes going on involving local businessmen in connection with city contracts (especially the nefarious “no bid” contracts that seem to be designed solely for the sake of corruption). Incidentally, each of these schemes lend themselves to titles derived from 20th century children’s programming.
Q: Did any of these shenanigans involve those screwy crime cameras?
A: Ah yes, this is what I call The Meffert Show. Mark St. Pierre is the founder of Veracent, LLC, and the former managing partner of Imagine Software, LLC, which (surprise!) are former city vendors. This is the guy responsible for those hideously expensive crime cameras that never worked. St. Pierre bribed former New Orleans Technology Chief Greg Meffert to the tune of $860,000 with strippers, vacations, cruises – you know, typical bribe stuff. Apparently a “no limit” credit card St. Pierre gave to Meffert was also used for a trips taken by Nagin’s family to Chicago, Hawaii and Jamaica.Q: Well, I’ll be! Wasn’t there also something about a business Nagin owned?
A: Oh, yes. This next bit I dub The Mendacious Stone Age Family. In 2005, Nagin started a family business, Stone Age, LLC, to sell stone countertops for trendy upscale kitchens that will be out of style within 20 years. Frank Fradella, former chief executive with Home Solutions of America (“HSA”), a city contractor, apparently bribed Nagin with free “truckloads” of granite. He also just plain outright gave Nagin $50,000, which Fradella and Nagin laundered (with the involvement of McGrath, the corporate board chair at HSA). The bribe was supposedly disguised as a business transaction between HSA and Stone Age. Aaron Bennett was apparently some sort of matchmaker in all of this.
Q: Sounds clever, but did he accept any bribes without fudging the source?
A: Yep, he did, in the chapter I like to call Rod the Builder, or “No We Can’t.” Rodney Williams is the former president of Three Fold Consultants, LLC, and also another guy who says he bribed Nagin with $50,000 (apparently this was Nagin’s standard fee). Though grossly unqualified, Williams’ firm was miraculously selected for various city design contracts totaling around $3 million in Nagin’s second term alone. This case may be particularly strong because apparently Nagin failed to craft it as a convoluted deal involving some other entity to give it a whiff of legitimacy.
Q: Golly! Does Nagin have any defenses?
A: It’s too early to say. With respect to the vacations St. Pierre paid for, Nagin claims he didn’t know a vendor was fitting the bill. He thought it was Meffert, because apparently it’s normal for your technology chief to pay for your family trips with somebody else’s credit card. Nagin can also claim that the underlying deals were actually legitimate, but that probably won’t pass the smell test.
Q: How did those gumshoes with the U.S. Attorney’s office build their case?
A: The usual way. They worked their way up from the bribers to the bribed. You might have heard that Meffert, Bennett and Fradella have all pled guilty to federal charges. St. Pierre held out and professed his innocence, but was still convicted of 53 counts of bribery. McGrath was, conveniently, already in prison. The last was Rodney Williams, who entered a guilty plea last month. Expect Williams and Fradella, both of whom cut deals, to be star witnesses.
Q: What made Nagin into a bad apple who runs afoul of the law?
A: The answer is the “C” in “C. Ray Nagin,” which is how it reads on his indictment. Nagin’s first name is actually “Clarence.” Growing up with the name “Clarence,” a source of endless schoolyard bullying, will drive anyone to crime. It is no coincidence that the crazed cop-killing villain in Robocop was named Clarence. A “Far Side” comic once likened “Clarence” to other “unfair animal names” like booby, platypus, and sapsucker. Many men named Clarence still live normal lives in spite of their manifest handicap, but it’s an uphill struggle.
Q: What’s Nagin’s best chance for avoiding the hoosegow?
A: He should use the “kid-named-Clarence-defense” and appeal all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, then play the sympathy card with Justice Clarence Thomas to peel a vote away from the conservative wing. That’s the smart play.
Q: All funning aside, what will be the legacy of Mayor Nagin?
A: Wasted potential. Nagin’s father was a night janitor at city hall where he son would later stand at the helm. Nagin attended college on a baseball scholarship, graduated with a degree in accounting, and worked various corporate accounting jobs for several years before returning to New Orleans as controller at Cox cable, where he apparently helped turn the struggling franchise around. After building a reputation as Cox’s wunderkind, he ran for mayor as a squeaky-clean, self-made man, and won with a wide (if shallow) base of support.
What a waste. The janitor’s son becomes the mayor and winds up being stung in a corruption probe. We all expected more from Mayor Nagin, and we were all let down.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.