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Watchdog: Accountability

Testimony: Nagin pressured Home Depot for business

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Prosecutors in the federal corruption trial of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin presented the jury on Tuesday with testimony and email evidence that Nagin pressured a national retail giant to do business with his family.

Ken Knutson, a lobbyist with The Home Depot, described Nagin, as well as community groups making demands on the retailer, as "shakedown artists" in testimony that centered on contracts the retailer granted to the ex-mayor's granite business.

Testimony and email evidence indicated Home Depot officials were wary of dealing with Nagin as they sought to build a new store in New Orleans. But Home Depot granted contracts to the business owned by Nagin and his sons.

Prosecutors say Nagin, as he sought contracts from the retailer, worked to curtail a community group's efforts to get an agreement with Home Depot to provide area residents jobs with health benefits and jobs at above market-rate wages. That agreement was never reached.

Home Depot has not been charged with wrongdoing in the case.

Earlier Tuesday, a city financial official told jurors that a movie theater built in the eastern part of New Orleans paid the city back only a fraction of a $5 million loan that was used to develop it.

New Orleans Deputy Director of Finance Derrick Muse outlined more than $35,000 in penalties that Nagin waived for the theater business's overdue taxes.

On Monday, prosecution witnesses testified that an owner of the theater paid for a trip Nagin's family made to New York.

Nagin's indictment alleges he accepted $23,500 worth of airfare and limousine services as a reward for the penalty waiver and overdue loan payments. That allegation is part of a 21-count indictment against Nagin, a Democrat, who served as mayor from 2002 to 2010.

Prosecutors began presenting their case Thursday, calling former city contractors and other witnesses and producing numerous emails and documents aimed at proving the former mayor received money, free vacation travel and free granite for his family business— bribes worth more than $500,000 — for helping contractors receive millions of dollars' worth of city work.

Nagin also is accused of money laundering and filing false tax returns.

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