BATON ROUGE, La. -- Edwin Edwards, the former four-term governor who proudly bragged about his ability to beat prosecutors, has been convicted of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from businessmen applying for riverboat casino licenses.
Edwards, who dominated state politics since first becoming governor in 1972, was found guilty Tuesday along with his son Stephen on charges of racketeering and fraud. The schemes took place during and after Edwards left office in 1996.
Edwards was convicted of 17 of the 26 counts against him, including two racketeering charges that each carry 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He and the four other co-defendants who were convicted were to return today for a hearing about the assets they will have to forfeit.
By his own count, Edwards has been the subject of almost two dozen state or federal investigations going back to his days in Congress in the '60s. In the 1980s he was charged with racketeering involving health care investments. His 1985 federal trial ended in a hung jury; he was acquitted in a retrial a year later.
Prosecutors said Edwards, his son, a state senator and four other men engaged in an elaborate bribery and extortion scheme involving casino licenses. Two of the defendants were acquitted.
The trial featured tales of huge sums of cash changing hands, secretly recorded conversations and the public betrayal of Edwards by men with whom he once socialized and gambled. The defense claimed, among other things, that the money was legitimate consulting payments.
The government's star witness was former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who testified that Edwards demanded and got a $400,000 cash payoff for help in getting DeBartolo a casino license in 1997. DeBartolo said Edwards picked up stacks of $100 bills near the San Francisco airport and hid the cash in a wide money belt under his shirt.
Prosecutors characterized Stephen Edwards, 45, as a manager of the extortion scheme.
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