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Content for this site is produced by Gannett News Service's Baton Rouge, Louisiana, bureau, in partnership with Louisiana Gannett newspapers :
La.'s seen several jailed state officials
Jim Bradshaw
Posted on October 20, 2002

When Edwin W. Edwards steps inside the walls of the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, on Monday, he will be at least the 10th elected Louisiana official to face federal custody in modern times.

The 75-year-old four-term governor was convicted May 9, 2000, in what federal prosecutors say was a scheme to extort millions of dollars from businesses hoping to get lucrative riverboat casino licenses from the state.

Throughout his public life, many of his followers have attached the Louisiana French adjective canaille to the silver-haired, silver-tongued Edwards. The loose translation: someone who is "a little too mischievous for his own good, but a little too smart to get caught at it."

The characterization held up twice before, when he dodged federal charges, but this time his luck ran out, or maybe it was only that history caught up with him.

Corruption charges were made against the earliest Louisiana governors. When Louisiana was still a colony of France, Jean Baptiste de Bienville was fired for corruption at least twice only to be rehired by those with whom he presumably shared the wealth. Govs. Antoine de Lamothe and Louis de Kelerec were each sent to the Bastille amid financial scandal.

In the 1880s, the corrupt Louisiana Lottery was put out of business by Gov. Murphy Foster (grandfather of current Gov. Mike Foster), but not before state Treasurer Edward A. Burke ran off to Honduras with $1,267,905 in state money. Burke was indicted for embezzlement, but he refused to come back to stand trial. He used his wealth to become a powerful figure in Honduran politics.

Huey Long was accused of practically every form of malfeasance on the books and fought off an impeachment effort based partly on bribery and other charges. But he was never indicted.

Richard Leche, who was elected after Long's assassination, wasn't as clever or as clean as the Kingfish. After Leche was sworn in as governor in 1936, he said, "When I took the oath of office, I didn't take any vows of poverty." He meant it, too. Before he was finally sent to prison in 1939, prosecutors said, he'd looted Louisiana of millions of dollars.

He and LSU President James Monroe Smith went to prison. Leche's actual conviction was for mail fraud stemming from allegations that he took kickbacks on state road projects and received some of the money through the mail. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison but spent only 3 1/2 years behind bars.

Smith blew a half-million dollars of state money in the stock market, then went to Canada with another $500,000. Smith came back to stand trial.

Jack P.F. Gremillion, attorney general from 1956 to 1972, was charged with fraud in federal court over his dealings with the bankrupt Louisiana Loan and Thrift Corp. He was tried on those charges in 1971 and acquitted, but was convicted later in the year on perjury charges stemming from the first trial. Gremillion was sentenced to three years in prison and served 15 months. He was pardoned in 1976 by then-Gov. Edwards. If state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom is found guilty on charges currently pending against him, he would not be the first to hold that office to spend time in jail. Odom is to go on trial Dec. 2 on theft, bribery and extortion charges. He says he is innocent and prosecutors this week dropped 11 of 21 counts against him.

Odom's predecessor, Gil Dozier, was convicted in 1980 of shaking down businesses that dealt with his department or were regulated by it. Dozier's predecessor, Dave Pierce, was in his 70s when he was tried on similar charges but served no time in prison because of his age and ill health.

In 1982, state Senate President Michael O'Keefe was indicted for swindling his business partners. In 1983 he was convicted of bilking a failed insurance company. He was sentenced to 19 years in jail.

Jim Brown is the third consecutive insurance commissioner to go to jail. He reported Oct. 15 to the federal facility at Oakdale to serve a six-month sentence for lying to an FBI agent.

Brown's predecessor, Doug Green, is serving a 25-year federal sentence for taking $2 million in illegal campaign contributions from owners of insurance companies. Green's predecessor, Sherman Bernard, pleaded guilty to taking bribes disguised as campaign contributions and served 30 months in a federal prison in Alabama.

In 1999, Elections Commissioner Jerry Fowler was indicted by a state grand jury and accused of taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from inflated voting machine contracts. He made a deal with state officials to be tried in federal court so that he could be sentenced to a federal prison with hospital facilities. Fowler suffers from diabetes. That done, he entered a guilty plea and is serving a five-year sentence in the same facility where Edwards is headed.

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