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Defense calls first witness in Nagin corruption trial

NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Ray Nagin wasn't very engaging and didn't discuss business during a flight to Chicago, says a witness in the corruption trial of the former New Orleans mayor.

The testimony by contractor Bill Edwards came as attorney Robert Jenkins began presenting his defense of Nagin, who is charged with accepting bribes, filing fraudulent tax returns and influence peddling, the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported Thursday.

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Edwards recounted a conversation with Aaron Bennett, convicted of bribing a Louisiana sheriff, about a trip to Chicago Bennett took with Nagin. Edwards said Bennett described Nagin as being aloof and that he did not talk about business.

During cross-examination, his testimony was characterized as hearsay by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pickens.

Edwards agreed with a statement by Pickens that he had "no set facts to offer this jury," the Times-Picayune reported.

Pickens rested the prosecution case earlier Wednesday, calling as his last witness Josephine Beninati, a financial analyst for the U.S. Attorney's office.

She outlined the government's claims of money laundering by Nagin. Beninati testified Nagin received $511,200 in bribes between 2005 and 2008.

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The prosecution called 26 witnesses during four days of trial. Jury selection began Jan. 27.

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