New Orleans mayor cracks down on graft

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

NEW ORLEANS -- Police began arresting more than 80 people in a bribery investigation of the city's auto inspection and taxi-licensing agencies Monday as the new mayor opened a crackdown on graft in the Big Easy.

The auto inspection agency, including its three inspection stations, was shut down by the roundup that began before dawn, and authorities said they expected all 20 employees to be implicated. Two city officials were fired and one of them was among the 84 people named in arrest warrants.

By early afternoon, 30 had been arrested.

Authorities said city employees took bribes to hand out taxi permits to illegal immigrants and to overlook automobile safety violations.

Police said one of the inspectors, a nine-year veteran, told investigators that "she was trained to do it that way."

Mayor Ray Nagin said the investigation will probably reach other agencies and more arrests could be coming. The mayor, who began the job in May, said there is "hard evidence" that previous administrations knew of corruption and did nothing.

"It is very clear that this type of behavior has been going on for many, many years," Nagin said.

Reputation for excess

The city has long had a reputation as a place of excess -- from food and drink to prostitution to graft. Federal prosecutors even now are investigating the relationship of bail bond companies with judges in suburban New Orleans.

Nagin's predecessor, two-term Mayor Marc Morial, was credited with cleaning up corruption and brutality on the police department. Former chief Richard Pennington, who recently took the top police job in Atlanta, presided over indictments, firings and disciplinary actions against more than 350 officers.

Nagin, a former cable TV executive, said his administration is examining contracts signed in the last days of Morial's administration and the spending of federal funds. He said previous administrations had ignored problems.

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