Lee Zurik Investigation: Nagin left plenty of evidence for federal investigators

Published: Jul. 26, 2012 at 12:53 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 26, 2012 at 1:39 PM CDT
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File photo of Ray Nagin
File photo of Ray Nagin

"They are claiming that there's some phantom person out there.  I don't know who that person is, they don't know who that person is."

That was Ray Nagin, New Orleans' former mayor, speaking in July 2009.

Some legal analysts think words spoken and actions possibly taken by Nagin could come back to haunt him in federal court.

Nagin did try to hide many meetings on his 2008 calendar.  And a non-profit technology group says, in 2009, Nagin or someone inside City Hall intentionally deleted the calendar from the city server.

In early 2009, this reporter put in a public records request for Nagin's emails and calendars, and had to sue the city to receive them.

Initially the Nagin Administration produced a heavily redacted calendar, with many meetings blacked out.  But Judge Rose Ledet ordered them to produce the original, unredacted version.

What we found was that the Nagin Administration tried to hide a handful of meetings with businessman Frank Fradella, claiming they were personal.

"That, in and of itself, does not an indictment make," says FOX 8 legal analysts Joe Raspanti.  "But what it does do is it backs up in some way the premise that there was something improper going on, and there was something to hide.  And that's what they did."

Fradella was a city vendor at the time, and last month pleaded guilty in federal court to paying Nagin money.

"It's pretty clear. You're not paying attention if you don't see what we have here," says Raspanti. " What we have here is, all these men are going to come forward and say that ray did this… that he knew what he was doing, that he understood the quid pro quo that was going on, and that what it is that we did was illegal."

But Nagin still didn't produce the emails.  The city said they were erased from the server.  So Judge Ledet ordered City Hall to recover the emails.  You may remember, that's when the city hired the Louisiana Technology Council.

And at one point, we thought, maybe they did hire us because they thought we might not be able to find the data," says Mark Lewis of the Technology Council.

But the Technology Council did find the data, soon after they were hired in May of 2009.

"When we started doing the work, we found that someone had gone in and deliberately deleted the email box of, actually, two people," says Lewis.  "We found that Mayor  Nagin's box was missing. Greg Meffert's box was missing.  But all the other 59 mailboxes were still intact."

A 2009 report from the Technology Council stated that the deleted emails could not "have been an accident" -- something Nagin denies.

"How could somebody deliberately delete these emails and for what reason?" asked Nagin in July 2009.  "They were responding to a crisis and besides the emails are on my desktop and they were able to retrieve."

The Technology Council says that's not true.  They were able to piece together emails, though, and recovered 18,000 from Nagin.

Mark Lewis says he hasn't looked at them; only the city and law enforcement know what was deleted.

Our analyst says the deleted emails and redacted calendar will play a role in the federal case, and combined with testimony from Frank Fradella and possibly Greg Meffert, they will be used against the former mayor.

Raspanti tells us, "This is something that is going to be shown to Mr. Nagin, and they'll say, 'this is what we are going to use at trial and this is how we're going to use it.  Besides these people coming in and telling their stories as to  what it is, we can bolster that by showing that you acted to cover up your connection with them.'  The obvious question would be why."

Nagin's attorney Robert Jenkins did not return our call for a comment.