- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2001

BATON ROUGE, La. Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, the political charmer who taunted prosecutors through two dozen investigations, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $250,000 yesterday 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' attorney Dan Small, who immediately filed notice of appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The four-term Democratic governor known as a high-stakes gambler was convicted of federal charges along with his son Stephen and three other men in May.
The elder Edwards was convicted of 17 counts of racketeering, extortion, fraud and conspiracy. Former gubernatorial aide Andrew Martin, cattleman Cecil Brown and Baton Rouge businessman Bobby Johnson also were convicted.
The younger Edwards was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined $60,000. His attorney, Jim Cole, said it was a case of 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."
U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola did not immediately set an imprisonment date. A separate court battle is expected on whether the four can remain free during appeals.
Federal probation officials had recommended 11 to 14 years in prison for the former governor, but prosecutors argued he should serve more time because he masterminded the extortion schemes.
"In Louisiana to this day, thanks in large part to Edwin Edwards, [people] think that this is a hostile and dangerous place to do business," assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said during yesterday's hearing.
The trial was highlighted by tales of huge sums of cash changing hands, of secretly recorded conversations and the public betrayal of Edwards by men with whom he once socialized and frequently gambled.
Edwards was convicted of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from businessmen applying for casino licenses during and after his final term in office.
First elected governor in 1971, Edwards known as "Fast Eddie" was frequently accused of corruption but managed to evade conviction until last year.
Edwards, who once bragged that nine grand juries had investigated him "and couldn't touch me," also was credited with boasting, "They'll never get me unless they catch me in bed with a live boy or a dead girl."
In an April 1997 raid on Edwards' palatial home in the Country Club of Louisiana subdivision in Baton Rouge, federal agents confiscated more than $440,000 in cash.
Edwards said the FBI should not have been surprised to find that much cash: "It is well known that I gamble for high stakes and deal in large sums of cash."
Last month, Judge Polozola threw out six fraud convictions against the Edwardses. But he let stand the more serious racketeering and extortion counts against the former governor and his son. Each carried a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan has said his office hasn't decided whether it will retry the men on the voided charges.
The riverboat gambling investigation stemmed from wiretaps on Edwards' home telephone and a microphone hidden in his law office for nearly three years. Edwards is challenging the validity of the government's secret monitoring.
The other sentences were five years and eight months in prison for Martin; five years and six months for Brown; and five years and four months for Johnson. All three were each fined $50,000.

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