French philosopher, Albert Camus once said “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world” (brainyquote). In other words, when men act without ethics, they live in a world where anything goes. They don’t draw any kind of lines. Ethics are moral codes which govern behavior. Recently, New Orleans former mayor faced the battle of his life. He was charged with unethical conduct and subsequently convicted and sentenced to ten years in jail. But what did he do to merit such harsh and merciless punishment? Ray Nagin had to answer to federal prosecutors for 21 corruption charges including bribery and money laundering. His trial and conviction proved that even those at the upper echelon of society and government would not be exempted when committing criminal acts. While few could have guessed that Nagin would get sentenced to ten years in jail, his trial is a warning that business ethics issues are serious and violating conscience has real consequences (Robertson, 2014).
During his trial, Nagin noted that when he took the job as mayor, he took a significant pay cut. Perhaps this would explain why Nagin accepted gifts, favors and money from city contractors who wanted to bid for business. Nagin described himself as a successful businessman who took a 300 percent pay cut to become mayor of New Orleans. And yet, during his trial he was accused of receiving up to $500 million dollars in gifts and kickbacks from contractors in what may be one of the biggest corruption schemes in government. Nagin’s charges ranged from bribery to money laundering, all involving financial transactions. The prosecution was able to produce a lengthy exhibit of records and evidence about each of these transactions, all of which the former mayor would deny in court (Robertson, 2014).
However, the paper trail linking the embattled mayor to his misdeeds was too thick for simple denials to get him out of trouble. Matthew Coman, the prosecutor on the case, asked Nagin about his awarding a local project to a certain firm who the state believed to have awarded him in kickbacks. The state also asked the mayor about an arrangement with a city vendor that had given free granite to a granite countertop company he ran with his two sons. Nagin responded that he only had a 20 percent stake in the company but federal prosecutors found evidence that he actually had a 60 percent stake in Stone Age. The company regularly received free granite and tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from those bidding for city contracts. The prosecutor used “an email message, calendar entry, receipt, credit card statement, tax return, flight manifest, invoice” to tie the mayor to transactions (Robertson, 2014).
Unfortunately, while this case involves several parties other than Ray Nagin, he is the only one being charged with a crime. Nagin’s sons were also party to the business so they had to have known about all the schemes that were going on to enrich the business. They certainly benefited financially from the bribes and kickbacks. Nagin’s roster of business associates and fellow contractors who paid for the trips and gifts are also parties to the crime. They had much more benefit from these crimes than they mayor, still they aren’t being asked to account for their role in the corruption schemes. All of these parties are affected by the sentencing because they are certainly going to be concerned about whether they are next to be indicted and face jail time. Certainly, all parties involved thought that they would get away with these crimes only to discover that no one is immune from following the law (Robertson, 2014).
Nagin had a very important alternative which he refused to exercise. Rather than lying and denying all of his crimes, he could have come clean and told the truth. The judge and jury would have seen a man with a contrite heart he was repentant of his wrongdoing. That’s not to say that he would not still have gotten the jail time. But, it is important for the community to see someone who served as mayor for two terms do the right thing. In refusing to come clean about his crime, he left a residue that people will always wonder about their leaders. Are they just career politicians? Are they capable of being honest and telling the truth? With the corruption trial ending the way that it did and some of the historical examples of corruption, it will be harder for people to trust those in power.
If I were Nagin, I would not have had the gall to commit the crimes that he did. But, if I did commit those crimes, I would be repentant and apologize to those who voted for me and trusted me. I would take full responsibility and not try to pass the blame to my sons or leave the blame with the contractors. As a leader of the city and mayor, he had a position of power and he abused that power and misused opportunities in order to make himself wealthy. Prosecutors were disappointed that he denied all wrongdoing even when presented with evidence. Certainly, he did not guess that he would face ten years in jail. Nagin is not the only corrupt government official who uses his position to enrich himself. Unfortunately, prosecutors had to make an example out of Nagin and he had to face a lengthy jail sentence.