Monday, March 01, 2010

Careful What You Wish For

For the past few months I've had numerous conversations with folks about the potential of a Ray Nagin indictment and the repercussions it would have for New Orleans. Will it happen? What would the charges be? When would it happen? What effect would it have on the city? There are lots of thing to consider, and I would like to speculate on some those things with this post.

Will it happen?

Yes, I believe Nagin will eventually be indicted. That is pure opinion, I do not have any inside knowledge which confirms that, but from the information I've gleaned about Nagin's administration over the past four years I find it hard to believe that he would not have to face the music for at least one of the possible transgressions which took place during his tenure....unless pleading ignorance has suddenly become a justifiable defense.

What would the charges be?

Most of you are aware of his recent Essence interview where he made the following comment:

"There was no corruption under my watch. I’ve only had one instance where there was a mention about anything corrupt, and that was an indictment, not a conviction, where a former employee may have improperly used a credit card. But if you’re talking about the previous administration’s indictments, that happened before I got here."

Maybe he's going to pursue stand-up comedy after office. But seriously, let's take a look at the possible transgressions he could be brought down on:


1. Kickbacks - As he admitted, the Netmethods' credit card provided traceable proof of illegal activity. There is no getting around the fact that he accepted gifts in the form of paid trips (Hawaii, Chicago, Las Vegas, Jamaica). There is also the possibility that St. Pierre and Netmethods paid for renovations to Nagin's house.

2. Destruction of Public Record - While it is still not known who erased the mayor's email database from City Hall Exchange servers, Mark Lewis and the LTC confirmed that of all the city employees on the Exhcange servers, only the mayor's email account was erased and this had to be done with deliberate intent. The Nagin administration refuted the LTC findings and subsequently hired a new contractor, Sunblock, to investigate the matter. We're approaching a year and we still haven't received a report from Sunblock. I know that local journalists have made numerous requests to Sunblock and the administration for the findings of that investigation but so far they have not provided anything substantive which contradicts the LTC's original assessment.

If the database was purposely erased, the issue becomes whether or not Nagin authorized the deletion or if he was aware of it.


1. NOAH - While there was a clear abuse of recovery funds surrounding NOAH, I think it will be difficult to find an indictable offense on Nagin's part in this scandal...just my two cents.

2. HSOA/Benetech - This speculation comes almost entirely from me and this blog. Having said that, there are many possible scenarios which could involve kickbacks and racketeering when it comes to these two companies.

Most notably, Stone Age, the company which Nagin started with his sons after the storm. The question is where was Stone Age getting their product from and at what rate. It's worth noting that an HSOA subsidiary was a Texas based company called Cornerstone Marble and Granite, which supplied many smaller shops, just like Stone Age, with their product.

Another interesting situation is the contract given to Benetech to remove the flooded cars from the city after Katrina. I received many reports that these vehicles were "re-purposed" and then sold through a broker in Memphis, Dennis Churchwell. According to Memphis sources, Churchwell (who is currently in prison), bragged about his dealings with Nagin and claimed that he had offered the mayor two condos in downtown Memphis and actually gave him a Cadillac Escalade as a gift.

What is known is that Nagin and Meffert, flew to the 2007 Bears/Saints playoff game in Chicago on Fireline's (an HSOA subsidiary) private jet with Frank Fradella (then HSOA CEO) and Aaron Bennet (CEO of Benetech). After being questioned about the trip, Nagin (the city) was then sent an invoice by HSOA for the price of a first class plane ticket.

My personal belief with HSOA/Benetech....where there's smoke there's fire. I think there may have been multiple gifts received by Nagin from these companies.

3. Perjury - Nagin has denied, under oath, any knowledge of the Meffert/Netmethod credit card kickback....that could come back to haunt him.

Remember that while under oath in the crime camera case, Meffert was asked how he came up with the idea to use a Netmethods credit card while serving as CTO. He answered, "The idea was presented to me." Who presented him with that idea? If Nagin suggested this kickback scheme then he certainly had prior knowledge of Meffert's actions and that constitutes conspiracy under RICO.

I could throw my 2006 election fraud conspiracy theory in, I will refrain because I simply don't have the evidence to remotely substantiate it....but I still think it happened.

When will it happen?

If it does happen, I can't possibly imagine it coming down while he is still in office. For a while I thought it would certainly come down before April, but now I've done a 180. I'm not pretending I know what the intent of Letten's office is, but from observation alone, I believe that they are certainly sensitive to timing issues and the court of public opinion...even if they pretend not to be. I think the proof of that is in the recent Danziger bomb which was conveniently dropped after Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl.

At this point I am betting on May or June if it does indeed happen.

What effect would it have?

Ok....this is where it gets complicated. I think the aggregate effect of a Nagin indictment is going to have some very severe repercussions on not just the city, but on the national partisan political landscape in general. Let's think about this.

The Effect to the City:

From a myopic view, we all know that Jim Letten has executed a furious cull since Katrina. While the current notches in his saddle, the Jeffersons, Eddie Price, Bill Hubbard, etc., are impressive enough, the fact that his office is now taking on the entire Jefferson Parish political machine is even more impressive. Clearly, the gig is up, brah....the "politics of the past" are finally being eradicated from the present.

We who dats understand our city's culture of corruption well enough to know that it transcends political parties and racial identity. Race and partisanship is often tactfully used to deflect scrutiny or invoke hostility, but most of us, at least those of us who pay attention, know the prime mover is good ole' greed. I think New Orleanian's are seasoned veterans, PhD's if you will, in the science of government graft and political corruption.

We have learned how to read between the lines and call bullshit.

The rest of the country...not so much.

And this becomes a very real issue in the potential indictment of Ray of the most well-known and emotionally charged politicians in the country. While I think the majority of New Orleanians, black/white, republican/democrat, may rejoice in a Nagin indictment, the resonate echoes which run through the country as a whole could prove devastating to the city's recovery.

Having grown up in the heart of Red State America, I think I can already project how this is going to play once FOX reports, "New Olreans' Mayor Nagin indicted for misusing Katrina funds". Never mind if that statement is true, that's how they are going to report it...."the black, democrat mayor in the corrupt, liberal African-American city of New Orleans took your tax dollars and lined his friend's pockets...and now Obama wants to send them more of your money for some global warming crap (wetlands restoration)!"

Since Obama took office, there's been a groundswell of xenophobic paranoia in this country which has been masked under the semantic construct of "socialism". This contingent has become increasingly frustrated because they can't come right out and express all that pent up racism against Obama. At least they've progressed to the point where they understand racism isn't socially acceptable.

You see, Obama hasn't broken any laws (unless you believe the birthers), so the only area they can attack him on is policy and ideology (socialism...a concept they don't even understand). It's been incredibly frustrating for them not to be able to come right out and express their inner racist.

If they are told by FOX news that Ray Nagin, the black man who yelled "get off your ass and do something!" to the honorable G.W. Bush, has stolen their tax dollars and funneled them to his peeps (which they will assume are all black, never mind they were mostly white republicans)....Katy bar the door. Ray Nagin and New Orleans could become a very real target for all that pent up anger and hate in the rebubbakin nation. Any effort by the Obama administration to increase the aid to our area is going to be met with howls of protest in the wake of a Nagin indictment.

An indicted Ray Nagin could put a very real face on the Red State America's notion of the corrupt, socialist government living on the taxpayer's tit.

That animosity could be used tactfully by the RNC, nationally and on a state level. Maybe I'm giving it too much gravity, but I really think Nagin's fate will have a much larger effect than what we may imagine. Then again, it may be the flavor of the week on the national's hard to tell.

Regardless, I think it's something to ponder and possibly prepare for.


Anonymous said...

I was tracking you until you got to the national perspective. Have more faith in people seeing through to the corruption. All you would have to report is the make up of the electorate that brought him in and the recent election. What we rejected was division and that's the beauty of the election. We don't want racial division. We want competent officials. Nagin was a racist as anybody you believe is looking for an excuse to use racism against Obama. If we can get the message across that to be truly race free is to truly be fair in promotion and in prosecution, then we have won. WHO DAT

Jason Brad Berry said...

- All you would have to report is the make up of the electorate that brought him in and the recent election.

I admire your optimism. I think you're being generous with the average American's ability to comprehend, even mild, complexity.

I agree with you about our reality but how it's spun by the national MSM is another story. I am worried about how the story will be spun. FOX will play to their audience, that concerns me.

Anonymous said...

I've already had family members elsewhere congratulate the city for finally getting rid of Nagin when Landrieu was elected.

Think back to Bill Jefferson: there was no dissing of New Orleans in the national media (or very little); the tone was that the city was getting its house in order.

I don't see a way that Fox or any similar media org can use it to make New Orleans look bad. The sad truth is we already DO look bad in the eyes of many, and cleaning out the infection might actually do some good.

(But we have to clean out other infections, too...and that includes the NOPD. I've already had a gulletful of apologists who say 'Fine. Next time you're in trouble, I hope you don't call a cop,' which has nothing to do with the wrongdoing of these specific officers.)

Jason Brad Berry said...

I hear what you're saying about Jefferson, but I think Ray is much more famous nationwide than Bill was. Maybe I'm wrong there.

I think FOX can make just about anything look anyway they want it to, in respect of their audience.

I"m glad you guys don't agree with me though, I hope it's unfounded concern.

Clancy DuBos said...

Great post, Dambala. Excellent analysis of the many nuances of the potential cases and the political fallout.

I'm not sure if I agree with your national take. Remember, Nagin will be the FORMER mayor when he gets indicted. And, if the indictment comes after the fall elections -- which is entirely possible, because I don't see Nagin getting indicted until after the Meffert/St. Pierre case has run its course -- then he will be less of a national figure. The feds move very deliberately, and they like to have every single thread tied down nice and tight. That means they will want to turn every possible witness: Meffert, Ben Edwards, St. Pierre and possibly others. That will take time, which puts Nagin farther out of the national spotlight.

No matter when the indictment occurs, I think the MSM will want to show and quote Mitch Landrieu, the then-current mayor, talking about all the progress than has been made since Nagin left office -- transparency ordinance, budget reform, ethics ordinances, stronger IG, new police chief, etc. etc. Don't underestimate Landrieu's ability to gain national attention, as it will be in his and the city's interest to counter the Fox spin.

clancy DuBos said...

Typo: In the last graf, it should read: "all the progress THAT has been made..."

ethan said...

Agree with you on the optics of all this, particularly on Fox and in the Red States.

Disagree that there is any real national interest in Nagin--he will become even less of interest once he leaves office.

And: with so many fallen public figures around these days (ie, Paterson) it is increasingly difficult to look at New Orleans as an outlier re: corruption.

bruthaman1 said...

political prosecutions tend to be a dog and pony show and P.R. for the prosecutor. you can compare them to the war on drugs. by that i mean mid-level and small timers get caught up but the M.F'ers who really run shit never get caught.

whats going to be interesting to me is to see how mitch gets coverd by the media. and by jim letten. if letten really likes his job as a prosecutor i don't think he could touch mitch as long as his sister is a senator while we have a democrat in the white house.

Anonymous said...

1) "Condos". "Condos". Not "condo's", in this case anyway.

2) Who reimbursed the cost of the two first-class tickets? Any idea?

3) "Contingent". "Contingent". Not "contingency", in this case anyway.

4) Don't be so sure we don't understand "Socialism".

5) Nobody needs to make a particular effort to "make us look bad". The facts will do.

Anonymous said...

Dambala, great post, but...

... I think the headline of "New Orleans Mayor Indicted for Corruption" will have all the startling, negative effect of "Dog Bites Man, News At 11."

First of all, the "brand" (borrowing from the mayor here) is already out there. Hate to break this to you but we have to *overcome a reputation of corruption that already exists. Busting our salacious mayor will help that greatly. In fact it may be necessary in doing so.

Secondly, we have Mitch Landrieu coming in. The man is professional, capable, well-spoken, understands government and the auditing functions that go with it. As the old goes out a new reputation must be created. An indictment of Nagin could be just what Mitch needs to set a new tone.

Thirdly, this can be furthered by the Council and an energized electorate staying on the administration - Fielkow & Co. must seek to enact the measures they could never get past Nagin: itemized budgeting (Fielkow has already tee'd this up); strengthened IG, enforcing state Sunshine laws that already apply but which are never implemented, clearing out the host of sub-entities that leave a moth-eaten impression on our funds and reputation.

It's too late for Morial, but indicting Nagin would be a capstone on our being able to assert that since Katrina, at least, we have cleaned up our act. Without it, there will always be a gaping hole in our argument that we can be trusted big enough to drive a truck through.

- Sobieski

Leigh C. said...

New Orleans unfortunately has had a decades-long track record in the corruption sweepstakes, so even though there are a lot of other states and cities trying to clean their houses, we will almost always present one nifty distraction from their tsuris. That's this town's cross to bear, unfortunately.

I have to wonder about how Fox News would also aid in pitting New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana against each other - play up Bobby Jindal and his "reforms" and present that versus all the crap that happened under Nagin's watch? There are too many angles to count on how to treat some eventual Nagin reckoning.

So, IF that day comes, what do we do, pray for anything but a slow news day?

We keep on keeping on with overhauling how we do law enforcement, economic development, and recovery and thank our chartered-in two-terms-for-the-mayor legislation that the Walking Id, physically, is now Dallas' problem.

MAD said...

Interesting post, but why the gratuitous and foolish comments that citizens opposed to Obama are all closeted racists? That is extraneous to the theme of the post, and flat out wrong to boot.

Superdeformed said...

If Nagin in indited before he leaves office, then yes the conservative media will have a field day and rile up their personal hate group (the tea baggers).

But if it's done after national elections and well into Landrieu's first year then it won't matter as much, but there will still be some flack from the conservatives.

But I think Nagin will slip away while everyone around him is busted, kinda like Marc Morial.

Ricardo said...

It would be interesting to know if there have been any invoices paid to SUNBLOCK. If there have we would be able to findout if a report has been completed and swept under the rug, or is forthcoming. I'd look for it in Veronica White's desk; it'll smell like lemon oil.

Anonymous said...

Jason I really enjoyed the commentary and post. Mostly the inevitable indictment of C. Ray Nagin.
I agree with Clancy about the Feds will take their time to try and "turn" every potential witness against Nagin.
That simply means that Nagin will hopefully see the futility of fighting--unlike Jefferson.
You hit on some good points including his getting the free trips to Jamaica, the NFC Championship game, etc. He knew who was paying for it and it was not HIM.
The one I think he has the most trouble with is the indictment of Ben Edwards. None of that makes any sense from the Edwards as a troublemaker, but "I'll keep him on the board" anyway to the $276,000 Edwards spent on the billboards when Nagin had to know the Rev. could not afford that expense.
If I'm Letten, Edwards might be the key to securing an indictment on Nagin.
I should end by saying all of this is opinion and they are allegedly innocent--until proven guilty.

Jason Brad Berry said...

1) "Condos". "Condos". Not "condo's", in this case anyway.

2) Who reimbursed the cost of the two first-class tickets? Any idea?

3) "Contingent". "Contingent". Not "contingency", in this case anyway.

4) Don't be so sure we don't understand "Socialism".

5) Nobody needs to make a particular effort to "make us look bad". The facts will do.

1. fixed

2. the city ended up paying for it

3. fixed

4. I'm more than positive the people I'm referring to don't understand it if they think we moving to a socialist society. Fascism yes, Socialism no.

5. You're missing the point if that's all you gleaned.

Jason Brad Berry said...

- Interesting post, but why the gratuitous and foolish comments that citizens opposed to Obama are all closeted racist

I didn't say that. I said there is a group of Red State Americans with this mindset.

I'm not a fan of Obama, I've often criticized him on this blog.

Jason Brad Berry said...

- I'm not sure if I agree with your national take. Remember, Nagin will be the FORMER mayor when he gets indicted.

I hope that assessment is right, Clancy. I just know that every time I go back to Kentucky people comment on "that Nagin feller" and the "Chocolate City". I would dare say some of these people don't know who their own mayor is, but they know ours.

SD seems to be the only one who agrees with me, I hope we're both wrong.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, Zombie. I'm enjoying the comments, too.

Some Red Staters probably will draw the exact inferences you describe.

Some Red Staters will cheer for Ollie North and invite Laura Bush to be a special guest at their Mardi Gras balls, too.

It isn't going to matter if you show them the stats that it was white Republicans who supported Nagin, and white Republicans within his City Hall who seemed to be up to their proverbials in swine shit and criminal misdeeds.

Neither the backwoods hillybilly bigot nor the pompous gated community dentist bigot is going to be swayed from their well constructed and laboriously maintained ignorance.

Like the wife of a drunk who lives in denial, they will do anything to keep from knowing what they already know they do not want to know.

Ya follow me there?

But most people will understand what is happening, and give props to any attempt to clean up government.

Let's hope it is a through house cleaning in Orleans Parish. A lot of people had their lives and homes destroyed.

When Sparky threw that map up, one of the people commented about taking food to people all but abandoned over in Algiers.

To the person who wrote about the woman crying when she was handed a can of pears, thanks. I've never been able to get that woman out of my mind.

I hope the house cleaning goes deep enough to provide restorative justive to people like her, and to those little kids who suffer in the public schools.

I hope every crooked-contract-grabbing Flood profiteer goes down hard.

Leigh C. said...

I think Nagin's indictment will end up being quite the bomb, the sound of which will reverberate through this country because of the federal money involved - money that was supposed to be helping with the recovery but mysteriously either sat in the Mayor's office or was funneled to cronies. Which means that Mitch has really got his work cut out for him to try to repair the damage done.

Anonymous said...

I hope that the incompetence that has held back recovery also means that the money is still available. Nagin appears to have no idea how to move into building or repairing buildings. I think that we will find out if the millions are still available--tied up legally in projects that Nagin's few friends are hip-deep in, or sitting on the table for Mitch to distribute. I also think that Nagin committed indictable offenses, but whether we can press some co-defendents to bring out their "rainy day" documents depends on Letten. He's waiting until Nagin is out of office so that Nagin will have to pay for his own defense--which is why we are all waiting for Nagin's last day. Verification: Schel as in "Nagin played a schel game with recovery bucks."

jeffrey said...

This week I'm reading Barton Gellman's Angler which catalogs the remarkable extra-constitutional abuses of the Cheney Administration.

Reading this stuff, I can't help but remind myself of the fact that none of these torturers, cronies and war criminals has, as yet, been held accountable by our justice system. Those who argue for prosecution are told that such a thing would be politically imprudent or that "it's time to move forward"

President Obama has, in fact, legitimized these abuses by not only refusing to pursue prosecution but also by adopting some of the more egregious policy positions put forth by the criminals themselves.

I guess what I'm wondering is, are you arguing that Nagin shouldn't be indicted on the grounds that it might make for bad short-term political optics? If justice is determined by political expediency, aren't we just endorsing a permanent culture of political corruption?

mominem said...

We waited 8 years for Marc Morial to be indited and while a number of his associates went down, he never did.

At this point I'm not even sure he can be indited (stature of limitations). He seems to be emerging more and more in the national media.

Nagin may end up the same way.

Anonymous said...

BW Development got $50 million in GO Zone bonds for a project at 2000 Tulane.

A Picayune columnist described the project as "an office tower topped by extended-stay penthouses for executives at 2000 Tulane Ave."

Jason Brad Berry said...

No way am I arguing he shouldn't be indicted. I am just specultating on the potential fallout. My argument is that New Orleans fate and Nagin's fate may be more intertwined than we imagine.

George Mauer said...

Yeah...but whatcha gonna do. Bring it on and we'll have one more Battle of New Orleans.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Personally, I do not think any national or international attention can be worse than when Nagin was re-elected. I still do not know how he did it.

I believe that an indictment of Nagin will be viewed as a huge step in the right direction and may encourage people to give NOLA another chance. I feel optimistic that it will show that we are seriously tackling corruption. Maybe then we can be trusted to be good stewards.

Anonymous said...

whether or not Nagin gets busted all depends on how good he is at the Plausible Deniability game. if he's good, he wont get caught.

Jason Brad Berry said...

He can't plausibly deny that he was taking free trips on a city contractor's dime. He can claim he didn't know who was paying for it, but that dog ain't gonna hunt.

Anonymous said...

Some worry that small fry around Nagin will go down and he will not; the opposite is also a worry, that as a figurehead he falls, leaving in place the people who worked in his administration who were part of and aware of all the schemes, and perhaps the originators of some of them.