Former governor guilty of gambling extortion

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The Independent US

In one of the biggest state corruption trials of recent years, a former governor of Louisiana was convicted yesterday on multiple counts of bribery and extortion related to the state's billion-dollar gambling industry. Edwin Edwards, 72, had dominated state politics for more than 25 years, and the unanimous guilty verdicts were seen as heralding the end of old-style political patronage in the grand southern manner.

Also convicted were Edwards' son, Stephen, a member of the Louisiana state legislature, and five others, including Ecotry Fuller, a member state gaming commission's board. They had been charged with extorting $3m (£1.96m) for granting lucrative licences for the operation of the state's river-boat casinos.

A flamboyant character in the mould of his legendary patron - Huey Long, who lorded it over Louisiana in the Twenties - Edwin Edwards, a Democrat, was a populist, much-loved among the state's have-nots. A self-confessed gambler and womaniser, he was also the first French-speaking Catholic governor of a state that prides itself on its French roots. His popularity, even after he left office in 1996, had been seen as the chief impediment to his conviction.

The trial, delayed and interrupted by illness among the defendants, lasted almost four months, and the jury deliberated for more than two weeks before reaching its verdict. Two earlier attempts, in the Eighties, to bring Edwards to justice over the awarding of permits for nursing homes, resulted in a mistrial and an acquittal.

This time, government lawyers had more than 1,500 hours of bugged telephone calls in which Edwards and his associates were heard discussing schemes to conceal the provenance of extorted money. They also had live witnesses, and a one-time participant in the scheme - Edward DeBartolo, former owner of the San Francisco 49ers baseball team, who said he paid Edwards a bribe of $400,000 (£261,000) for the last of the riverboat licences - turned state's evidence.

This trial, unlike the previous two, was held in the state capital, Baton Rouge, rather than in Mr Edwards' power base of New Orleans and the judge banned all public statements by prosecutors or defence during the trial. In the earlier trials, Edwards had entertained supporters with his sharp-witted commentaries from the courtroom steps. Edwards had pleaded "not guilty", maintaining that the money he received comprised legitimate consultancy fees.

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