By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced on Wednesday to 10 years in federal prison for corruption during the critical years of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005.
A jury in February found Nagin, a Democrat, guilty on charges including bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and tax evasion.
Nagin, 58, stirred national controversy with his erratic behavior after Katrina breached floodwalls and inundated New Orleans in 2005, killing at least 1,500 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
Citing Nagin's devotion to family and commitment to helping New Orleans, U.S. District Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan said a shorter prison term than that recommended under federal sentencing guidelines was warranted.
She ordered Nagin to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence by Sept. 8. With good behavior, and barring any appeals, Nagin could get out of prison after about 8-1/2 years.
Berrigan also ordered Nagin, who prosecutors say accepted bribes valued at over $500,000, to pay about $84,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.
Addressing reporters outside the courtroom, prosecutor Matthew Coman, who had sought a stiffer sentence, thanked community members who had come forward to help the prosecution build its case.
"What Ray Nagin did was sell his office," Coman said, as supporters of the former mayor sought to shout him down.
During the 10-day trial, prosecutors portrayed Nagin as a mayor on the take, granting favors for bribes that included tons of free granite delivered to a kitchen countertop company he ran with his sons.
Nagin, a former cable TV executive elected in 2002 on a promise of running an ethical government and re-elected four years later, made no apologies in a brief courtroom statement in which he thanked the judge for her professionalism. Nagin, who has never acknowledged taking bribes, declined to comment as he left the courthouse.
His attorney, Robert Jenkins, said after February's guilty verdict that Nagin would appeal his conviction.
Any appeal will likely be complicated by the defense not moving during the trial to have the evidence against Nagin ruled too weak for a conviction, said Herbert Larson, an expert on federal criminal law at the Tulane University Law School.
Such motions are crucial for revisiting those arguments on appeal, he said.
"I don't think there are many if any viable avenues for an appeal for Ray Nagin," Larson said.
(Reporting by Kathy Finn; Writing by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Jim Loney and Eric Beech)