NEW ORLEANS — Former mayor Ray Nagin, the businessman-turned-politician who became the worldwide face of the city after Hurricane Katrina, was sentenced to 10 years in prison Wednesday.
Nagin, 58, was ordered to report to federal prison Sept. 8 and to pay restitution of $82,000. He was found guilty Feb. 12 of fraud, bribery and related charges involving crimes that took place before and after Katrina devastated the city in August 2005.
Prosecutors immediately objected to the sentence, which falls well below typical guidelines that called for 15-20 years.
"What Ray Nagin did was sell his office over and over and over again," Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Coman said outside the courthouse. "The damage that Ray Nagin inflicted upon this community ... is incalculable. We as a community need not and should not accept public corruption."
Coman said a decision on whether to appeal will be made by U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.
Judge Ginger Berrigan determined that Nagin did not have a leadership role in the criminal conspiracy, saying all defendants are "equally culpable."
"Mr. Nagin's crimes were motivated in part by a deeply misguided desire to provide for those closest to him," she said.
Before announcing the sentence, Berrigan indicated she would "downwardly depart from guidelines" and that "sentencing imposed should reflect Nagin's ability to harm the public again."
Nagin said he would "trust in God that this would all work out."
A jury convicted Nagin of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes — money, free vacation trips and truckloads of free granite for his family business — from businessmen who wanted work from the city or Nagin's support for various hurricane recovery projects.
Prosecutors asked the court to send Nagin to prison for a long time. They argued that he was found guilty of 20 of 21 counts in the indictment, and that he participated in and orchestrated a years-long conspiracy to enrich himself and his family.
The government also argued that Nagin spent years covering up his crimes and that his testimony during the two-week trial showed an unwillingness to accept responsibility for his actions.
Coman compared Nagin's crimes with those of other public officials who drew stiff sentences, including former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (28 years), former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (14 years) and former Birmingham, Ala., mayor Larry Langford (15 years).
"Nagin's widespread and corrosive breach of the public trust — lasting through much of his tenure in office — equals even the worst of these state and local corruption cases," Coman wrote.
Nagin's defense attorney, Robert Jenkins, petitioned the court for a lighter sentence. He pointed out that his client is a first-time offender with no criminal record.
Jenkins also argued that the allegations and evidence presented during the trial showed behavior inconsistent with his otherwise outstanding life as a businessman, family member and citizen.
"Mr. Nagin has been a devoted father, husband and supportive child to his parents, and greatly cares for the well-being of his family, and is their caretaker," Jenkins wrote.
According to Jenkins, a 20-year sentence would amount to a "virtual life sentence."
Jenkins noted that former governor Edwin Edwards received a 10-year sentence in a public corruption scheme that netted up to $5 million in ill-gotten gain.
The court previously calculated Nagin's take at more than $500,000.
The court received several letters of support for Nagin, including from members of his family. His wife, Seletha, asked that he remain out of jail until allegations of prosecutorial misconduct could be fully investigated.
"I am asking that you delay these sentencing proceedings until we are allowed to see all the reports that have thus far only been summarized but clearly show a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct," Seletha Nagin wrote.
Her letter detailed the family's financial ruin and personal anguish.
"We are mentally and financially drained," she wrote in the four-page letter dated July 1. "We have exhausted our savings, borrowed from family, gone on public assistance (for the first time ever) and even had to file bankruptcy to avoid being homeless. We have even sold much of our furniture and all of our jewelry with the exception of our wedding rings."