Former New Orleans mayor starts 10-year sentence for graft

Former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin leaves court after being sentenced to 10 years in New Orleans, Louisiana July 9, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin reported to federal prison on Monday to begin serving a 10-year sentence for corruption committed during the years when the city was struggling to recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Nagin, 58, will be housed at a minimum security satellite camp of a federal prison in Texarkana, Texas, a Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman said.

The former Democratic mayor, who plans to appeal his conviction, was thrust into the national spotlight in 2005 when Katrina overwhelmed levees and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, killing 1,500 people and causing some $80 billion in damage.

He was convicted in February on 20 criminal counts including bribery, conspiracy and money laundering, all tied to payments he received for granting city contracts during the recovery effort.

The prison camp where he will serve his sentence has 297 inmates who live in dormitory-style lodgings, according Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke.

Lou Pearlman, a music mogul who launched the boy bands Backstreet Boys and NSYNC and was convicted in 2008 for orchestrating phony bank and investment schemes, was housed there until last month, Burke said.

Under federal sentencing rules, Nagin would serve about 8-1/2 years in prison with good behavior.

The onetime cable company executive served as New Orleans’ mayor from 2002 to 2010. He has said in court filings that he is nearly penniless, and has been granted a court-appointed lawyer for his planned appeal.

Seeking re-election in 2006, Nagin, a black politician who had enjoyed strong support from both black and white voters, seemed to adopt a racially divisive tone, urging residents to rebuild a “chocolate New Orleans,” referring to its majority black population.

Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Richard Chang