It's no longer a question of whether former Mayor Ray Nagin will be indicted by a federal grand jury, but rather when and on what charges. The only thing new to come out of last week's grand jury subpoena for Nagin's records was the fact that the media can be just as bumbling as the feds.
WDSU-TV's "I-Team" first reported that Nagin had been personally subpoenaed to testify. That put media competitors in "catch-up" mode as TV stations scrambled to verify the Channel 6 report, which the station repeated for two days. Even The Times-Picayune picked it up, though the paper attributed its entire (albeit brief) story to WDSU.
Turns out Nagin was not subpoenaed to testify personally, just to produce records. Several attorneys told me that it would have been "unusual" for the feds to subpoena Nagin before indicting him — but that subpoenaing the records of a grand jury target is common practice.
Sometimes a person will get a "target letter" notifying him that he is likely to be indicted and "inviting" him to present his side of the story to the grand jury, according to the same attorneys. This is done to prevent a defendant from telling a jury at trial that he was unfairly targeted and never given a chance to rebut the allegations at the grand jury level. As far as I know, Nagin has not been so invited — although it's now common knowledge that he's a target.
The other recent development, say several sources, is that former City Hall vendor Mark St. Pierre is now cooperating with the feds. It's about time. St. Pierre was convicted on 53 counts of bribery, fraud and corruption in May 2011 after calling the feds' bluff and going to trial. He got 17-plus years, and now his only chance to reduce that sentence is by cooperating with the feds against Nagin.
St. Pierre's testimony will be critical — even more so, perhaps, than that of former City Hall tech chief Greg Meffert and other co-conspirators, all of whom have been convicted of various federal crimes. Meffert testified for the feds against St. Pierre (his former business partner) but said under oath that Nagin didn't know who paid for the infamous Meffert-Nagin trip to Hawaii in 2004 and the Nagin family's equally scandalous first-class jaunt to Jamaica less than 12 weeks after Katrina.
Truth is, Meffert had no clue what Nagin knew or didn't know, not that ignorance ever kept the garrulous techie from offering his take on things. St. Pierre, on the other hand, could say for certain that Nagin knew who paid for the trips and other gratuities accorded the then-mayor. If, for example, St. Pierre testifies that he told Nagin that he paid for the trips, it would refute Meffert's assertions that Nagin was in the dark — and potentially secure a bribery conviction, if that's among the charges against Nagin.
And who knows what else St. Pierre might say?
Of course, Nagin's lawyers will point out that St. Pierre has lots of reasons to sing whatever tune the feds want him to sing in light of his harsh sentence. Ditto for Meffert, former city vendors Aaron Bennett and Frank Fradella, and former city tech chief Anthony Jones — all of whom have been convicted by the feds and all of whom appear to be lining up to testify against Nagin.
Telling jurors that convicted witnesses were coerced into testifying for the feds and therefore shouldn't be believed is common practice and good lawyering.
Recent history suggests, however, that it seldom gets a defendant off the hook.