Settlement avoids trial in post-Katrina trash case
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A civil lawsuit over post-Hurricane Katrina trash disposal involving former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and others has been settled.
The confidential settlement, recorded in court documents filed late last week, avoided a trial that had been set for Monday.
The lawsuit involved claims by Waste Management of Louisiana that River Birch — owned by Fred Heebe and Albert Ward — made campaign contributions to local officials to gain advantages in the debris disposal business.
Waste Management had been dealt a setback before Thursday’s settlement. One of its claims was that Nagin’s 2006 decision to close the brand-new Chef Menteur landfill in eastern New Orleans stemmed from his receipt of $20,000 in bundled contributions from “straw” firms tied to River Birch.
The New Orleans Advocate reported that, last month, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt ruled that Waste Management can’t prove the Chef Menteur allegations — and thus would not be allowed to air them at a trial. The judge ruled that the evidence of a link between the payments and the closing of the landfill was “far too speculative and conclusory.”
Nagin, serving a 10-year sentence on unrelated corruption charges, denied in a deposition earlier this year that money from River Birch was behind his decision to close the landfill.
The settlement reached Thursday will allow Waste Management to continue appealing Engelhardt’s ruling on the Chef Menteur allegations.
The civil lawsuit involved players in a federal investigation that was abandoned after Heebe’s lawyer discovered in 2012 that a federal prosecutor made anonymous online posts critical of Heebe and others. The resulting scandal led to the revelation that another prosecutor also had made online posts.
The misconduct led to the resignation of then-U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who was not implicated in the online postings. It also led to discovery of online posts that led a judge to overturn the convictions of five former police officers implicated in the shootings and cover-up of unarmed civilians in Katrina’s aftermath. The officers later entered plea deals to avoid a new trial.