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February 7, 2014

Ex-Orleans mayor tells jury he took no payoffs

Eds: Updates with more Nagin cross examination. Will be updated.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In sharp exchanges Thursday with a prosecutor in his corruption trial, former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin flatly denied seeking $60,000 from a contractor who had just been turned down for city business.

"He lied," the ex-mayor said of key prosecution witness Rodney Williams, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Coman questioned him about three $20,000 payments made by Williams' company to Stone Age LLC, Nagin's family-owned granite business.

The testy back-and-forth came during cross-examination of Nagin, who is being tried on a 21-count indictment with charges including bribery, money laundering, conspiracy and filing false tax returns. His testimony during which he also downplayed his power to approve no-bid contracts lasted until the trial recessed for the evening, and Nagin was expected to take the stand again Friday.

Earlier Thursday, Nagin's lawyer questioned him during a calm, point-by-point refutation of allegations that he took hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes during and after his two terms, from 2002-2010. Prosecutors allege that his corruption included the period after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, when contractors sought to benefit from potentially lucrative rebuilding jobs in the devastated city.

Nagin gave his side a day after the prosecution rested, ending five days of testimony from more than two dozen prosecution witnesses, including Williams and four others who said they were involved in bribing the ex-mayor.

Exchanges with Coman were sharp but, at times, jocular. At one point, Coman discussed a Mardi Gras season mayoral ball that Williams attended. "Yes, with a thousand of my closest friends," Nagin said.

In a more serious tone, Nagin denied knowing that a one-time city vendor paid for his family's vacation to Hawaii in 2004, a trip that prosecutors have cast as one of several bribes he accepted.

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