by MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin asked a federal judge Wednesday to throw out his indictment on bribery charges, saying the case has been tainted by prosecutorial misconduct.
The alleged misconduct includes anonymous online posts about Nagin by a former federal prosecutor, said Nagin’s lawyer, Robert Jenkins.
The former mayor pleaded not guilty in February to charges he accepted bribes, free trips and other gratuities from contractors in exchange for helping them secure millions of dollars in city work.
Jenkins asked for a copy of a sealed Justice Department report on anonymous comments by at least three federal prosecutors, but U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan rejected the request Wednesday.
Jenkins argued in a court filing there is also other evidence of prosecutorial misconduct that will deprive his client of a fair trial. The trial is scheduled to start on Oct. 28, but Jenkins asked Berrigan to postpone it, saying he needs more time to prepare.
Nagin was the subject of anonymous posts by former prosecutor Sal Perricone, who was a top deputy to former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Perricone resigned after acknowledging his online activities, which also led to Letten’s resignation.
“It is not merely coincidental that the derogatory and damaging online postings by former government counsel occurred during the precise timeframe that the investigation of (Nagin) began,” Jenkins wrote.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt cited evidence of “grotesque” prosecutorial misconduct in ordering a new trial for five former New Orleans police officers. They were convicted of civil rights violations in the deadly Danzinger Bridge shootings following Hurricane Katrina.
Engelhardt said at least three government attorneys, including Perricone, posted anonymous comments on The Times-Picayune’s companion website and created a “carnival atmosphere” that perverted justice.
The Justice Department appointed John Horn, a veteran federal prosecutor from Georgia, to investigate the online commenting scandal and other allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and report his findings to Engelhardt. The report has been kept under seal.
Berrigan ruled Nagin didn’t need the report to defend himself at trial.
“The jury, and only the jury, will determine whether the defendant is innocent or proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” she wrote.
Jenkins said Perricone’s negative comments about Nagin are only a “partial picture of the extent of government misconduct.”
“The government not only acted illegally, but apparently sought to conceal its actions,” he wrote.
Nagin’s indictment was the product of a City Hall corruption investigation that already has resulted in guilty pleas by two former city officials and two businessmen and a prison sentence for a former city vendor.
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