We're not supposed to rejoice at the suffering of others, but the federal indictment of former Mayor Ray Nagin last Friday was nonetheless a cause for a celebration of sorts. Not because Nagin may suffer for his alleged crimes — though he should suffer if he's convicted — but because now there will be a reckoning.
Now, finally, that clueless, narcissistic poseur will be called to account for some of his many sins against New Orleans.
Oh, happy day.
According to the 21-count indictment, Nagin took more than $200,000 in bribes from at least four city contractors to whom he steered recovery contracts after Hurricane Katrina. All four of them — Rodney Williams, Frank Fradella, Mark St. Pierre and Aaron Bennett — have already been convicted on various federal charges, some of them linked directly to Nagin's indictment. He also allegedly got free private jet travel and limos (collectively worth more than $20,000) from Businessman A in exchange for favorable tax treatment by City Hall.
Last week's indictment includes six counts of bribery, nine counts of deprivation of honest services through wire fraud, four counts of filing false tax returns, one count of conspiracy and one count of money laundering. He faces decades behind bars if convicted on all counts.
The indictment does not charge Nagin's two sons, Jeremy and Jarin, but it obliquely refers to them as Family Members 1 and 2 — who allegedly got $10,000 in cash from Williams. Nagin foolishly declined a plea deal that reportedly would have let his sons walk, but they're not out of the woods yet. They still could stand trial alongside their father if there's a superseding indictment.
As horrible as all that sounds for Nagin, he will not be punished for his greatest crimes. For example, he will never pay for flying his entire family to Jamaica, first class, on St. Pierre's dime, just 82 days after Katrina so he could chill while thousands of his constituents struggled to get back to their flood-ravaged homes. In fact, he never even apologized for that now-infamous act of indifference. Clearly, the guy had a profoundly misplaced sense of entitlement as mayor.
He'll also never be held accountable for completely bungling our city's post-Katrina recovery, for setting us back years because he was more concerned about himself than his city. For hiring the equally narcissistic and bombastic Ed Blakely. For destroying — or allowing the destruction of — public records that were requested of his administration. For the post-Katrina New Orleans Affordable Homeownership scandal. Or for the corrupt crime camera debacle that his now-convicted IT chief, Greg Meffert, foisted on us with his partner-in-crime St. Pierre. Ironically, St. Pierre and Meffert may testify against Nagin at trial. There's some justice in that.
None of this is pleasant. So why do I rejoice?
I rejoice because maybe, just maybe, the justice that Nagin now faces may help dry the tears shed by the thousands he let down so completely, whose trust he betrayed so unconscionably, whose futures he sold out so reprehensibly, whose needs he ignored so cavalierly.
I rejoice because, at long last, the grifter who cowed in the face of great challenge, who thought only of himself while the city and the people he swore to serve faced their darkest hour, will now be held to account.
I rejoice for the reckoning that I pray will come. But mostly I rejoice in the hope that Nagin's demise will bring a healing, a closure, to our beloved city and its deeply wounded people.
Oh, happy day.