Skip to comments.Edwin Edwards preparing for next stage of his life: Federal prison
Posted on 10/20/2002 3:55:43 AM PDT by Pern
Even in retirement, Edwin Edwards could never find the time to finish the autobiography he started eight years ago.
He never expected he would eventually find the time while serving a 10-year sentence in a federal prison.
"I'll have plenty of time to do that now," the 75-year-old Edwards said. "I'll have little else to do."
Whatever Edwards writes in his book, his version of events will no doubt conflict with how others view him. While he might recall a popular and colorful politician, others might remember a flippant gambler who skirted the line between right and wrong and finally got caught on the wrong side of the law.
But either way, the former four-term governor cast a political shadow that dominated Louisiana the last quarter of the 20th century.
Monday, Edwards begins what might be the last stage of his life. He is scheduled to report to the Federal Medical Center, a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas.
His son, Stephen, is slated to report to the Federal Correctional Center in Beaumont, Texas, to begin a seven-year term.
A jury in May 2000 convicted them and three others of shaking down riverboat casino owners and license applicants.
The Edwardses stayed out of prison on bond while they appealed their convictions. But their run of good fortune ran out recently when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld their convictions. Then the U.S. Supreme Court declined to let them remain free during their appeals to that court.
A somber Edwards reflected recently on his life as he prepares himself and his family for the future. He is facing his imminent incarceration with a mixture of resignation and optimism.
He talks about living long enough to see freedom, mentioning his good health and the tendency of people in his family to live long lives. But he also sounds fatalistic, sometimes in the same breath.
"I want everyone to know that, while I recognize the unpleasantness of the situation, that it's not going to deter me from taking care of myself. I will survive it," he said. "I've had a long, happy, blessed 75 years. And the agony of the events now unfolding is easily overshadowed by the pleasant memories of the kind of life that I have led."
Edwards said he has suggested to his 38-year-old wife, Candy, that perhaps she would be better off divorced than waiting for him to get out.
"But she will not discuss it with me," Edwards said. "She has a closed mind, and all I can tell you is that I told her whatever she decides to do, I will support her. The decision is hers."
As for the well-publicized efforts of the two to have a child, not even the prospect of prison has deterred them, he said.
"We have some frozen sperm from my reverse vasectomy, and I suppose after I leave here, she'll probably resort to trying to use that, but that's still up in the air," Edwards said. "She'd make a wonderful mother."
Edwards sounds less pensive and more positive when discussing his past.
He has been working on his book with a person who has been researching the details of his public life. But the former governor, who said he is not patient enough to research the details, has no problem listing what he considers his public accomplishments.
Edwards is the only person in Louisiana history to serve in all three branches of government. Besides his stints in the Governor's Mansion, he served in the state Senate and U.S. Congress, and as a justice on the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Edwards said he also is proud that he was the lead candidate or winner in 24 of 25 elections he entered.
"And I'm also the first and only one to have received over 1 million votes in a (Louisiana) gubernatorial election," Edwards said.
Edwards did that twice -- in 1983 against incumbent Gov. Dave Treen and in 1991 against David Duke.
Edwards also listed his role in spearheading a constitutional convention to write a new state constitution in 1973-74, a change in the taxation of oil and gas revenues, health-care programs and the system of vocational and technical schools across the state.
"What I have done in my years in public service is there to be seen and talked and written about," Edwards said. "This last chapter in my life does not erase that or color it or change it at all. It may overshadow it in the minds of some people, but the two are unrelated."
Two university professors who have studied Louisiana history agreed about what they consider Edwards' positives and his negatives.
Both LSU history professor John Rodrigue and Michael Kurtz, a dean at Southeastern Louisiana University, said Edwards' first two terms as governor, which covered 1972-80, were on the whole progressive and positive.
"In those first two terms, he had a plan and a vision and was able to implement a lot of it," Rodrigue said.
Rodrigue and Kurtz agreed that the state needed the new constitution. But the change in the way the state taxed oil and gas -- from taxing the volume to taxing the value -- was a mixed bag.
As long as prices of the natural resources were high, as they were during the 1970s, billions of dollars poured into the state treasury, Kurtz said.
But when the value of oil dropped in the 1980s, so did the income to the state. Money for social programs and education dried up, Kurtz said.
"Higher education took 11 budget cuts during Edwards' third term," from 1984 to 1988, he said.
But both professors gave Edwards credit in an area he didn't even mention -- his commitment to civil rights for black people.
"He brought blacks into the mainstream of Louisiana politics," Kurtz said.
Kurtz and Rodrigue both said Edwards' third and fourth terms were far less successful.
The advent of gambling in the state, cuts in education and health care, as well as federal investigations that hounded Edwards in the 1980s and again in his last term, contributed to a negative image for the state.
"I think there was too much of 'I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine' instead of preparing to move the state into the 21st century," Kurtz said.
And Rodrigue took exception to Edwards' oft-repeated statement that he never hurt anyone.
While that is probably true on an individual basis, Rodrigue said, Edwards' "flip attitude" and "political shenanigans" hurt the state and its citizens.
"That cynical attitude he displayed helped perpetuate the cynical attitude Louisianians have about government," Rodrigue said. "The womanizing and the gambling did, in a way, degrade the Office of the Governor and the state, and you can't say that didn't hurt anybody in Louisiana. I think it did."
Edwards said he has been too strapped for cash the past few years to do much gambling, citing attorney fees, a $250,000 fine and a $1.8 million forfeiture.
"I'm just about dead even," Edwards said. "It has pretty well wiped out my available assets."
While he is in prison, Edwards said, he will continue to press his appeal. As he has stated in the past, Edwards said he thinks he was convicted because former friends turned on him and agreed to make deals with prosecutors, in order to save themselves.
"If they had just stayed the course and told the truth, none of us would have been in trouble because nothing we did was a violation of the law," Edwards said.
He was talking about Robert Guidry, the former owner of the Treasure Chest casino in Kenner. Guidry testified that he paid $1.5 million in kickbacks to the Edwardses and former Edwards aide Andrew Martin.
Another was Richard Shetler, a longtime pal of Stephen Edwards.
Shetler testified that he funneled about $550,000 in cash and goods from Player's Lake Charles casino to the Edwardses.
And finally, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers football team, told the jury he gave Edwin Edwards $400,000 in cash in March 1997, after Edwards was out of office.
DeBartolo said he paid Edwards the money to keep the former governor from wrecking the chances of a partnership DeBartolo was part of that was trying to get a riverboat casino license.
Besides the Edwardses, the jury also convicted Martin, Eunice cattleman Cecil Brown and Baton Rouge businessman Bobby Johnson.
Martin and Brown are already in prison on separate convictions. Johnson is headed for the Federal Correctional Institute in Texarkana, Texas. His sentence of five years, four months starts Monday.
Edwards said he's been spending as much time as he can with his friends and family. The hardest part of preparing for prison, Edwards said, has been dealing with his 12 grandchildren. He also has an infant great-grandchild.
Despite having to deal with those painful moments, Edwards said he already knows what he will be thinking when he walks into prison Monday.
"Very simple. I'm here for a chapter in my life that is unwanted and unwelcome, but I'm going to deal with it. I will be a model prisoner as I was a model citizen," he said. "I spent my public and private life trying to help people who were less fortunate than I, and to the extent that I may be able to do that in prison, I intend to continue to do that. It should make me feel good about myself."
Yeah. Just look at the pull has has with the writer of this sympathetic editorial. Oh, boohoo, a felon is going to prison, boohoo.
Is my memory serving me correctly here?
I was in the Air Force at Barksdale AFB at the time.
I vaguely remember in the 1970s Edwards received a $100,000 bribe and actually put it on his income tax. The state then had nothing on which to prosecute the case. Only in Louisiana.
wheresgeorge.com is very cool, in a nerdy kind of way. I've used it for a couple of years, now.
Yeah, sweet young Candy there might wait around.
Maybe because his life and his politics were a train wreck waiting to happen.
Yeah, I signed up in March 2000, but some how forgot the site while I was buying a house. A marked bill came my way a couple of months back. Nerdy? Maybe, but it's fun. Poorman can't understand why I like it, though...
I served at Barksdale AFB 1984-1988 as a B-52G aircraft mechanic (crew chief). Hated the place; wouldn't trade the experience for all the tea in China.
I voted for him when David Duke was the GOP Candidate for Louisiana Governor.