Former Louisiana governor sentenced to 10 years in prison
BATON ROUGE, La. – Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, the silver-haired gambler who wisecracked his way through two dozen investigations, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $250,000 on Monday for extorting payoffs from businessmen applying for riverboat casino licenses.
Edwards, 73, showed little emotion as the decision was read. His daughters and wife sobbed behind him.
”A long sentence is effectively a death sentence,” said Edwards’ lawyer Dan Small, who immediately filed notice of appeal.
Edwards was ordered to report to prison Feb. 5, but a court battle is expected over whether he can remain free while he appeals. With a gag order finally lifted, Edwards gave a long interview on the courthouse steps, flatly denying the allegations.
With characteristic wit, he also joked: ”I have to make arrangements to find Candy a new husband and pay my bills.”
Edwards was convicted in May of 17 counts of racketeering, extortion, fraud and conspiracy. His son Stephen and three other figures were also found guilty.
The younger Edwards was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined $60,000. His lawyer, Jim Cole, called it guilt by association.
”The jury’s verdict is largely a product of Stephen Edwards’ last name,” he said. ”He’s swept along by whatever they think of his father.”
The casino schemes took place after the Democrat was out of office in 1991, and continued through his fourth and final term as governor from 1992 to 1996 and after he left office but retained considerable political clout.
The case came to light in 1997, when FBI agents raided Edwards’ home and office, seizing records and more than $400,000 in cash. Prosecutors built their case on 1,500 hours of telephone conversations secretly recorded by the FBI and testimony from businessmen such as former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who said Edwards extorted $400,000 from him.
Defense attorneys said there was no smoking gun tying Edwards to the scheme.
Edwards used an uncanny political sense to become the most powerful Louisiana politician since Huey Long. The sharp-witted Cajun was a nonsmoking, Scripture-quoting teetotaler who loved high-stakes gambling, beautiful women and ribald jokes. And he was surrounded by hints of scandal.
Grand juries looked into his finances and campaign contributions in the early and mid-1970s. He was indicted in 1985 on racketeering charges stemming from hospital and nursing home investments. The first trial ended in a hung jury and the second in an acquittal. He arrived at court one day in a mule-drawn carriage, saying it represented the pace of the trial.
The sense of humor never disappeared. In the latest case, after learning that the federal charges carried up to 350 years in prison, Edwards said: ”I can truthfully say if my sentence is 350 years, I don’t intend to serve.”
So much information was amassed from the investigation that two more indictments followed the casino license charges. Edwards and others were accused of insurance fraud; two defendants have pleaded guilty. A third indictment accused former Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz and others of bribery; Edwards was not charged but prosecutors said he profited from the scheme.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola threw out six fraud convictions against the Edwardses. But he let stand the more serious racketeering and extortion counts against them. U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan said he hasn’t decided whether to retry the men on those charges.
At Edwards’ sentencing, federal prosecutor Jim Letten said Louisiana owes much of its reputation as a corrupt state to Edwards.
”People to this day think, thanks largely in part to Edwin Edwards and his co-defendants in this case, that Louisiana is a hostile and dangerous place to do business. It’s the Edwards legacy,” he said.
The Edwardses’ co-defendants, former gubernatorial aide Andrew Martin, cattleman Cecil Brown and businessman Bobby Johnson, all were sentenced to around 5 years in prison and fined $50,000 each.
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