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February 12, 2014

Will (and should) former mayor Ray Nagin get a sentence making it likely he dies in federal prison after his corruption convictions?

The question in the title of this post is the first sentencing question that came to mind upon hearing this criminal justice news from a Louisiana federal court this afternoon:

Ray Nagin, the former two-term mayor of New Orleans indicted after he left office, was convicted Wednesday of 20 federal corruption charges for illegal dealings with city vendors, dating back to 2004.  A jury delivered its verdict just before 1 p.m., after six hours of deliberations that followed a nine-day trial.

Nagin, 57, joins a list of Louisiana elected officials convicted of misdeeds while in office, but he is New Orleans' first mayor to be convicted of public corruption.  Under federal sentencing guidelines, he could face a 20-year prison term, possibly more, lawyers have said.

In a case that relied heavily on the testimony of businessmen-turned-convicts -- and a paper trail that showed money changing hands and lucrative city contracts doled out -- prosecutors described a public official "on the take."  Nagin was an opportunist who pursued businessmen under pressure to get government work, targeting them to line his own pockets, prosecutors said....

Nagin was somber and silent as he made his way through a crush of reporters outside of the courthouse -- a far cry from the confidence he showed when he first arrived more than two weeks ago at the start of his trial.  Addressing the press, Jenkins said, "Obviously, I'm surprised. Now we're moving on to the appeal process."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Coman, the lead prosecutor on the case, gave a brief statement. "We are pleased with the verdict and obviously we are very thankful to the jury and the court," he said....

Nagin, a Democrat, was the public face of the city during Hurricane Katrina, making national headlines as he lambasted the federal government for its response to the storm and subsequent flood.

He lives in Frisco, Texas, where he has avoided the spotlight, staying quiet save for an occasional tweet, since his indictment a year ago. Sentencing is set for June 11 before U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan.

As the title of this post suggests, I would urge now-convicted Nagin to urge his lawyers to get very focused on the federal sentencing process before they start "moving on to the appeal process." As the article above notes, federal prosecutors are likely to argue that the guidelines applicable here recommend a sentence of decades for Nagin, and judges within the Fifth Circuit tend to be drawn toward imposing within guidelines sentences. Ergo, unless and until Nagin's lawyers start developing some strong sentencing arguments on his behalf, the former mayor of New Orleans may be looking at the real possibility that he gets a federal prison sentence later this year that amounts to a functional life sentence.

February 12, 2014 at 06:03 PM | Permalink

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The sentence will be much like that given to former four term Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards (who was convicted of racketeering). As we know from the the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 2.6% of Federal defendants ever win anything on appeal. In half of those cases, the defendant is re-sentenced to the same sentence he received the first time, but with better explanation and support by the District Judge the second time. So, on a net basis, only 1.3% of Federal defendants gain any relief on appeal. Mr. Nagin's lawyers better start working hard now on their Sentencing Memo. If the Judge wants to, she could even run the sentences on the different counts consecutive to one another to achieve "total punishment". Nagin's life as he has known it is over.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Feb 12, 2014 6:11:29 PM

Those numbers are interesting (and obviously the odds aren't good for anyone), but I would guess the odds of winning something on appeal are noticeably better for jury trial defendants than for the 98% who plead guilty.

Posted by: Jay | Feb 12, 2014 6:45:39 PM

FWIW, Wikipedia has Edwin Edwards in prison a little over a decade (hard to tell exactly), not twenty years. Tidbit -- B41 supported a commutation, but B43 didn't agree with daddy's recommendation. I'd think that "should" be the limit but what "will" occur is unclear. Twenty years for these crimes seem a bit ridiculous, especially since after a past inquiry, I was told you won't get much lopped off in federal prison unlike many state sentences.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 12, 2014 9:06:21 PM

I wouldnt mind seeing him die in prison.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 12, 2014 10:35:43 PM

| On February 12th, 2014, a jury convicted Nagin on 20 of 21 federal corruption counts. These charges included that he had taken more than $500,000
in payouts from businessmen in exchange for millions of dollars' worth of city contracts. |

--- Ray Nagin wrote and self-published his first book, Katrina Secrets: Storms after the Storms.
--- Bill Clinton self-published his latest book, Viagra Secrets: Fornicate after you Medicate.

Recap:
2002 Mayoral Election: “Many citizens favored Nagin's expressions of disgust with traditional Louisiana politics, including promises to fight political corruption
and run the city in a more businesslike manner”

2004 Hurricane Ivan: “he advised evacuees to have some "Benjamins" ($100 bills) handy and urged … also to make sure they had "an axe in the attic".

2005 Hurricane Katrina: “advising that if they did not evacuate, "We will take care of you" … many police failed to show for work, city buses were strangely
not used to evacuate stranded citizens … he used the phrase "Chocolate City" to signal that New Orleans would remain a majority black city. He first used the
phrase during a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration speech in New Orleans on January 16, 2006 and repeated the metaphor several times. … At a town hall
meeting in October, Nagin said: “How do I make sure New Orleans is not overrun with Mexican workers."”

--- --- “Nagin also stated that New Orleans "will be a majority African-American city because this was what God wants it to be." He condemned “Washington”,
by saying God "sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country", suggesting God's disapproval of the 2003
invasion of Iraq
”. Nagan continued to use the phrase “chocolate city” as in An interview with Tavis Smiley broadcast on PRI on January 13, 2006, as he had
used it in many previous speeches and welcoming addresses to visitors of the city.”

2006 Mayoral Election & term: “The 2006 mayoral race was one of the most expensive in New Orleans history … Nagin successfully lobbied to increase the
federal community disaster loan … joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, co-chaired by mayors Michael Bloomberg and Thomas Menino ... Nagin was also
criticized for devoting time to extensive lobbying in Washington, DC and a national speaking tour."

--- --- “In April 2009, Nagin was obliged "to sit for a deposition as part of a civil lawsuit [involving] Mark St. Pierre, who … had made substantial donations to Nagin's
2006 re-election campaign.”
--- --- “[2009: investigations revealed] that Nagin had taken "plenty of other trips" at the expense of NetMethods, a company owned by city vendor Mark St. Pierre
… The Times-Picayune had obtained information that Mark St. Pierre … had made substantial donations to Nagin's 2006 re-election campaign."

--- --- “Nagin's Chief Technology Officer, Greg Meffert, was later charged with 63 felony counts in what authorities say "was a lucrative kickback scheme."

--- --- “Prior to leaving office in 2010, Nagin was appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to head the United States delegation to a state and local
governments conference on assistance to post-earthquake Haiti held in Martinique.”

--- --- "In June 2012, Frank Fradella who was facing major securities fraud charges, pled guilty in New Orleans federal court to one count of conspiracy to bribe
a public official. According to The Times-Picayune, Fradella claims to have paid $50,000 and delivered truckloads of free granite to Nagin's sons' business
in exchange for favorable treatment for Fradella's companies with city contracts."

--- --- "On January 18, 2013, Nagin was charged with wire fraud, conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, and filing false tax returns related to his alleged dealings
with two troubled city vendors. … On February 20, 2013, Nagin pleaded not guilty in federal court to all charges." --en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Nagin

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 13, 2014 9:54:12 AM

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Ruggero J. Aldisert published a booked called "Winning on Appeal -- Better Briefs and Oral Arguments, 2nd Ed. (National Institute of Trial Advocacy 2003)." In that 2nd edition of the book, at pg. 11, he published a table regarding the odds of winning a criminal appeal. From 1998 to 2002, the odds of winning a criminal appeal varied from 5.4% to 6.5%. He cites his source as www.uscourts.gov/caseload2002/tables/b05mar02.pdf -- which appears to no longer be on the internet.
Jim Gromley, I would like to see the web page with the statistic you mentioned. I am not doubting the figure you presented. However, I am wondering if there is any indication on that website that the use of appeal waiver clauses caused the number to drop significantly. I don't think those clauses were as prevalent back in the 90s or early 2000s as there are now --- although I could be wrong about this.

Posted by: Tim Holloway | Feb 13, 2014 11:37:39 AM

@Jay: According to www.bjs.gov, in 2010 (most recent data published) only 91% of Federal criminal cases ended in guilty pleas. Tim Holloway raises the issue that you may have overlooked, which is that the plea agreements of most defendants who plead guilty these days contain appeal waivers. Thus, your statement that the odds of prevailing on appeal if one goes to trial are better than for those who go to trial is more true than you know. Those who plead guilty do not generally get to appeal at all.

@Tim Holloway: Statistics Table 6.3 of the report, "Federal Justice Statistics 2010" (most recent data) is entitled "Criminal Appeals Terminated on the Merits". This report can be found at www.bjs.gov, under the tabs "Federal", "Criminal" and then click on the report (58 pages long). My statistics above are from the early 2000s and are out of date. 2010 stats show 76.1% affirmed, 3.7% partially affirmed, 12% dismissed, 7.5% remanded or reversed, and 0.6% other.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Feb 13, 2014 2:24:16 PM

Federalist,

Are you sadistic or just a racist. Nagin didn't kill anyone. 5 or 10 years is just not enough? Are you insane? You obviously have no understanding of concepts like diminishing returns to scale from punishment. Or, worse, you do but you are a sadist or racist, or both Do you really enjoy seeing people die in prison? Do you really think an educated man should suffer in a prison run by ignorant prison guards. Why in the world would you post on a sentencing blog to argue for outrageous sentences.

Posted by: Mark | Feb 15, 2014 10:16:09 AM

Where are all the people in here who think civility is the order of the day? Mark's post was completely over the top--but what's worse, little to no argument. Doug?

Political corruption is an appalling crime. But I'll give you a real reason---in my city, the fact that I am a Republican would make me unable, if I were so inclined, to get city contracts etc. That is an unacceptable state of affairs, and as far as I am concerned, the lot of them who make it that way should be clapped in irons. Same thing down in NO. You pay to play. When you really sit and think about it--what kind of system forces people to be dishonest in order to win contracts with the government? Well, the people that make the system that way deserve draconian punishments.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 16, 2014 1:39:13 PM

federalist --

"Where are all the people in here who think civility is the order of the day?"

As we have seen, conservatives are the only ones scolded about lack of civility. Liberals can use any insults they want, and they use plenty. Racist, sadist, knuckle-dragger, blood luster, jerk, asshole, and on and on. It's now the inventory of liberal "argument."

The reason for this asymmetry is easy to figure out. Because this is a generally pro-defense board, the pro-defense crowd views any dissent as out of place. Rather than answering conservative arguments, therefore, the response is simply to be rude and insulting to the people who make them. The Left figures that if it's rude enough often enough, the board will become so unpleasant for conservatives to post on that they'll go away.

That is what liberalism has come to. It's the Internet version of the leftist crowds on college campuses who shout down conservative speakers (something that never happens to liberal or even Communist speakers).

Then, after the shouting down, the Lefties gather round to congratulate themselves on how tolerant and enlightened they are.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 16, 2014 3:06:29 PM

Federalist,

Take heart. Mark asked if you were a sadist OR a racist. He did not appear to even consider the option that you were both.

That is a step forward for these people.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 17, 2014 12:38:58 PM

He needs whatever the Fedreal Sentencing Guidelines calls for, he is just another crooked politician that Louisiana is famous for

Posted by: gary lowery | Jul 9, 2014 2:17:54 AM

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