Prosecutor confronts Nagin with pact approvals

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal prosecutor confronted former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin with evidence of phone calls, meetings and checks from people who say they bribed him as he vehemently denied taking payoffs on his second day of testimony in a federal corruption trial.

Nagin repeatedly downplayed his role in approving city contracts, particularly in the hectic days after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, when lucrative city rebuilding work was mounting. And he denied any connection between his approval of contracts for Three Fold Consultants and more than $60,000 the company principals gave to a granite company, Stone Age LLC, that he owned with his sons.

The Three Fold contracts, Nagin said, were recommended through a committee process and were among many awarded as the city struggled to rebuild in the hectic months and years after Katrina.

"They hit my desk and I signed them," Nagin told Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Coman.

"Isn't it true, Mr. Nagin, that you traded tax dollars for Stone Age dollars?" Coman asked.

"It's not true," Nagin said.

Rodney Williams, a partner in Stone Age, was the government's lead witness and told jurors he bribed Nagin for work that eventually totaled more than $2 million.

Nagin, a Democrat, faces a 21-count indictment with charges including bribery, money laundering, conspiracy and filing false tax returns. Prosecutors say he took hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of bribes — including money, free travel and granite for the family business — during and after his two terms, from 2002 to 2010.

Nagin downplayed his role in approving city work, and said he acted primarily as a "financier" but not a hands-on manager for his two sons in the foundering Stone Age. He also said he recalled little or nothing about June phone calls to another of his accusers, businessman Frank Fradella.

Fradella has testified he bribed Nagin with free granite for Stone Age and with cash, including a $50,000 payment arranged by business associate Michael McGrath. On Friday, Coman showed Nagin phone records and calendar entries indicating he called Fradella on the same day McGrath sent Fradella an email inquiring about Fradella's need for $50,000.

Nagin said he didn't remember what was discussed in the phone calls. He vehemently denied that he asked for anything from Fradella that day or any other.

Subdued at first, Nagin grew more uncomfortable as Coman pressed on. He said Coman was leaping to conclusions about the phone calls to Fradella.

"This is tough for me to sit here and listen to all these false statements, sir," Nagin said after one testy exchange with Coman.

Nagin took the stand in his own defense Thursday to counter days of damaging testimony from more than two dozen witnesses, including five who said they were involved in bribing him.

Nagin insisted that money that went in to Stone Age from Williams and Fradella was investments. He brushed off Coman's suggestions that the payments conflicted with Nagin's stated policy, evidenced in earlier defense testimony and in email evidence, that city government officials were not allowed to take money from or do business with contractors.

"That's what you told several people in your administration is that correct?" Coman asked.

"That's pretty well the way we did business," Nagin said.

Coman also focused on Nagin's varying accounts of his percentage ownership in Stone Age and his failure to turn over some documents about the company to the Louisiana Board of Ethics. Nagin said he left much of the responsibility for dealing with the ethics board to an attorney and said his sons had neglected to provide some information.

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