Clerk Dorothy Brown chaired fund-raiser cited in Nagin corruption case
BY DAN MIHALOPOULOS AND FRANK MAIN Staff Reporters January 20, 2013 6:42PM
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has a picture taken with Dorothy Brown, the host committee chairperson for the event, at a reception for him during his 2006 visit to Chicago. | Sun-Times Library
Updated: February 22, 2013 6:22AM
A re-election fundraiser that Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown chaired for then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin almost seven years ago was mentioned prominently in the federal corruption indictment unsealed against him Friday.
Prosecutors accuse Nagin of accepting bribes from contractors including Mark St. Pierre, who helped organize the fund-raiser for Nagin in Chicago in May 2006.
Public records show St. Pierre — who was convicted on corruption charges in Louisiana in 2011 — also was a significant political donor to Brown and worked as a subcontractor on a multi-million-dollar computer-system project for Cook County.
According to the indictment, St. Pierre “hosted a fund-raiser in Chicago and provided concealed and direct campaign monies to [Nagin] to continue receiving ‘no bid’ city business.”
Brown, who is a Louisiana native, chaired the fund-raiser at the Plaza Club, on the 40th floor of the Prudential Building. At the event, she said she admired Nagin’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.
“I was just so impressed how he stood so tall when he wasn’t getting any help from the governor and he wasn’t getting any help from the president,” Brown said.
Brown also spoke at Nagin’s inauguration after he was re-elected for what would be his second and final term. She reportedly received a standing ovation when she said: “He did not run. He did not hide. He stayed with his people.”
Brown did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
At the time, organizers of the 2006 fund-raiser told the Chicago Sun-Times that the event collected $500,000 for Nagin’s campaign.
But Nagin later said that figure was exaggerated, estimating the true haul at about $250,000, while the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that his campaign listed only 17 contributions totaling $5,950 from people living in Illinois.
Court testimony in St. Pierre’s 2011 corruption trial indicated that the event generated $100,000.
St. Pierre would later donate a total of $15,000 to Brown’s campaign committee, Illinois records show. That includes a personal contribution of $5,000 in January 2007 and another $10,000 later that year from Imagine Software LLC, one of St. Pierre’s companies that’s referred to in the new indictment of Nagin.
According to the charges against Nagin, he “accepted bribery/kickback payoffs from Mark St. Pierre that included personal services, free travel, lodging, cellular telephone service for family members and campaign funding.”
St. Pierre was sentenced to 17½ years in prison in May 2011 on 53 federal corruption counts for bribing Nagin’s former chief technology officer.
Ed Burns, a computer company executive who also was involved in organizing the Chicago fund-raiser for Nagin, testified against St. Pierre. On the stand, Burns described the fund-raiser and also said his company, Ciber Inc., had hired St. Pierre as a subcontractor on a deal with Cook County.
Burns testified that St. Pierre helped him on a project to design a case-management system for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
The Cook County Board approved a $2.9 million contract with Ciber in 2005. The county has paid the company at least another $1.7 million for maintenance and software upgrades since 2006, records show.
Burns — a Chicago native whose office was in Baton Rouge, La.— said the 2006 fund-raiser here was designed to introduce Nagin to Chicagoans interested in the rebuilding of New Orleans following Katrina, he said.
“The mayor was publicizing: ‘Come to New Orleans. Return to New Orleans. We need workers,’ ” Burns said. “So companies in Chicago were very interested in an opportunity to establish a relationship with the mayor, thus potentially doing business with the City of New Orleans.”
Burns, who has not been charged, could not be reached for comment last week.
He also testified that he and other contractors had joined Nagin in Chicago in January 2006 to watch the NFC championship game between the Bears and the New Orleans Saints.
Burns said Nagin tried to enter Soldier Field with a ticket from Bears’ linebacker Brian Urlacher’s brother, but the ticket was invalid. Nagin was still able to watch the game in a skybox, Burns said, after Burns told stadium staff who Nagin was.
“I knew the guy that ran Soldier Field,” Burns said.
Contributing: Lisa Donovan