Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards Is Convicted on Corruption Charges

The administration of Edwin Edwards, the three-term governor of Louisiana, was marred by allegations of corruption for decades. In 2001, Edwards was sentenced to ten years in federal prison for corrupt practices, including extortion and money laundering, related to the issuance of contracts and licenses for riverboat casino gambling.

Summary of Event

On May 9, 2000, former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards was found guilty of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion, wire and mail Mail fraud;Edwin Edwards[Edwards] fraud, and money laundering, among other crimes. On January 8, 2001, U.S. District Court judge Frank Polozola sentenced him to 120 months in prison, fined him $250,000, and ordered him to forfeit $1.8 million. [kw]Edwards Is Convicted on Corruption Charges, Former Louisiana Governor Edwin (May 9, 2000)
[kw]Corruption Charges, Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards Is Convicted on (May 9, 2000)
Money laundering;Edwin Edwards[Edwards]
Edwards, Edwin
Louisiana;Edwin Edwards[Edwards]
DeBartolo, Edward J., Jr.
Money laundering;Edwin Edwards[Edwards]
Edwards, Edwin
Louisiana;Edwin Edwards[Edwards]
DeBartolo, Edward J., Jr.
[g]United States;May 9, 2000: Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards Is Convicted on Corruption Charges[02980]
[c]Corruption;May 9, 2000: Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards Is Convicted on Corruption Charges[02980]
[c]Law and the courts;May 9, 2000: Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards Is Convicted on Corruption Charges[02980]
[c]Politics;May 9, 2000: Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards Is Convicted on Corruption Charges[02980]
[c]Government;May 9, 2000: Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards Is Convicted on Corruption Charges[02980]
Polozola, Frank

Five others were charged as coconspirators: Edwards’s son and law partner, Stephen; Andrew Martin, Edwards’s executive assistant during his fourth term as governor; Cecil Brown, a longtime friend and courier of information and cash for Edwards; Bobby Johnson, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contractor with ties to Edwards; Louisiana state senator Greg Tarver; and Ecotry Fuller, a member of the casino license board for Louisiana. While Tarver and Fuller were found not guilty, the others received sentences of between five and seven years and fines between $50,000 and $60,000.

Edwards was first elected to the Crowley City Council, then as a state representative and a member of the U.S. Congress. He was a popular governor who first served from 1972 to 1980. He was constitutionally banned from seeking a third consecutive term, so he waited four years before handily winning an election to serve a third term beginning in 1984. In his third term as governor, the state had faced high unemployment and ran a significant operating deficit. The state fell further into debt and was seeking much-needed revenue.

From the early days of his political career, Edwards was accused of corruption and taking payoffs from those doing business with the state. He rarely took on the accusations directly, responding instead to his critics with sharp one-liners. For example, a gift of close to $20,000 in value from a South Korean lobbyist was simply dismissed by him as a gift to his wife.

Edwards proposed legalized-gambling options while in office, but those options did not develop until his successor, Charles “Buddy” Roemer, took office and worked with the state legislature for the approval of riverboat-casino gambling. In no time, Edwards was back as governor for a fourth term, surprising many. He, too, would play a major part in the development of gambling in the state. Louisiana would soon approve the licensing of fifteen riverboat casinos that would create jobs and generate revenue. As the contracts and licenses were being awarded, it became clear to many that those contracts were going to bidders who had some sort of business relationship with Edwards, whose final term as governor ended in early 1996.

Among those riverboat bidders was Edward DeBartolo, Jr., part owner of the San Francisco 49ers football team and son of the successful shopping-mall developer Edward DeBartolo, Sr. In 1996, DeBartolo Entertainment was in the process of bidding for the fifteenth, and final, riverboat casino license. Though Edwards was out of office at the end of 1996, he still had many powerful friends in government. The former governor used his connections to give DeBartolo confidential information from the meetings of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.

In early March, 1997, the night before DeBartolo made his presentation for a riverboat casino and shopping-mall complex on the Red River in Bossier City, Edwards and DeBartolo met at the Baton Rouge Radisson Hotel bar. Edwards requested 1 percent of DeBartolo’s casino profits and $400,000 for assisting in procuring the license. Edwards also implied that DeBartolo would have trouble getting the contract unless he complied with his request. DeBartolo agreed to Edwards’s terms in that meeting.

Soon after that meeting at the Radisson, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wiretap caught Edwards on the phone with Ralph Perlman, a member of the Gaming Control Board. Edwards asked Perlman if the vote regarding DeBartolo’s contract would be encouraging. Perlman replied in the affirmative. In mid-March, Edwards again met with DeBartolo, this time to retrieve a briefcase containing $400,000 in $100 bills. The next day, the partnership of DeBartolo Entertainment and Hollywood Casino Corporation was awarded the final riverboat-casino license on a 6-0 vote. In the end, however, DeBartolo would never receive the license.

The FBI began wiretapping Edwards’s phones and placing microphones in his law office to gather substantial evidence related to other possible payoffs. While Edwards was somewhat cryptic and careful with comments he made over the phone, microphones revealed he was more carefree when discussing business dealings in his law office.

On October 6, 1998, DeBartolo pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to report that Edwards had extorted him for the casino license. DeBartolo cooperated with authorities and received two years probation and agreed to pay $1 million in penalties. However, DeBartolo lost considerably more than cash: He lost the casino license and controlling ownership of the San Francisco 49ers, which went to his sister.

Edwards, his son Stephen, and four associates were indicted on November 7 by a federal grand jury for a racketeering conspiracy to extort money from prospective businesses seeking to open riverboat casinos in Louisiana. The licenses were lucrative, and Edwards knew those interested would go to extremes to get one.

Robert Guidry, a former riverboat casino owner, testified at the former governor’s trial that he paid $100,000 per month to Edwards, his son, Stephen, and an Edwards aide. During the trial, Edwards questioned the legality of the deal by claiming he was not in office as governor when he allegedly received those payments. The cornerstone of Edwards’s defense in the case was that all payments were legal payments made for his lobbying and consultation expertise. However, Guidry testified that Edwards’s work, while governor, in reassigning key members of the state police gaming division was essential to Guidry receiving his renewed gambling license. Without the gambling license, Guidry’s riverboat contract was worthless. Guidry admitted to making payments to Edwards totaling $1.5 million by dropping amounts as much as $100,000 in cash in clandestine areas, including trash bins, in Baton Rouge from March, 1996, through April, 1997.

Multiple permits were needed to successfully operate a riverboat casino, adding to the temptation to subvert the law to get those lucrative permits. To set up a riverboat casino, a company would have to win one of the available permits to build and dock its boat. Additionally, a company would have to receive an operating license from the state police. In one instance, Edwards suggested to one company, Players Casino in Lake Charles, that they would need his help in getting approval from the state police. In turn, the company purchased $200,000 worth of goods from an Edwards-owned company.

Because the U.S. attorney had failed to convict Edwards on corruption charges during the mid-1980’s, few people were absolutely confident of getting a conviction in this case, even though some of his coconspirators cooperated with prosecutors by testifying. All three had accepted plea bargain deals with federal authorities and were forthcoming with details when they took the witness stand at trial. Edwards and his son and associates were found guilty on May 9, 2000. Edwin Edwards unsuccessfully appealed his conviction, an appeal based largely on his claim that the testimony of key trial witnesses was questionable.

While still attempting to appeal his case, Edwards began serving his term at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, on October 21, 2002. He later transferred to Oakdale Federal Prison in Oakdale, Louisiana. This low-security prison houses other high-profile inmates, including Enron’s Fastow, Andrew Andrew Fastow, Worldcom’s Ebbers, Bernard Bernard Ebbers, and former Alabama governor Siegelman, Don Don Siegelman.


For a state with significant wealth in terms of natural resources, many critics lament the political corruption that has impeded the state’s progress. Louisiana remains a poor state with an inadequate educational system and unstable revenue. Concern about corrupt politics has kept many businesses from establishing themselves in the state, businesses that would provide jobs, income to the state from sales taxes, and a hint of stability in a politically unstable state. Edwards’s unethical and illegal dealings only made matters worse, and they did nothing more for the state than reinforce its reputation as a haven for corrupt politicians and government officials. Money laundering;Edwin Edwards[Edwards]
Edwards, Edwin
Louisiana;Edwin Edwards[Edwards]
DeBartolo, Edward J., Jr.

Further Reading

  • Bridges, Tyler. Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001. A comprehensive report on Edwin Edwards’s role in the development of gaming and the corruption related to gaming in Louisiana.
  • Brotherton, John. A Fistful of Kings. Humble, Tex.: Shears Group, 2000. A story of casino gambling in Russia and Louisiana as told by a Players Casino vice president and witness for the prosecution in the Edwards case.
  • Parent, Wayne. Inside the Carnival: Unmasking Louisiana Politics. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004. A comprehensive review of Louisiana politics, with substantial focus on political corruption in the state.

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