The rise and fall of Gov. Edwin Edwards
Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, the most influential Louisiana politician of the second half of the 20th century — and one of the most colorful — was found guilty on May 9, 2000, of extorting nearly $3 million from companies that applied for casino licenses during his last term in office. He was convicted on 17 counts of racketeering, mail and wire fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering. Edwards was sentenced to 10 years in prison and served eight, followed by six months in home detention and three years of probation.
Edwards lives in Gonzales with his third wife, the former Trina Grimes Scott, and their son, Eli Wallace Edwards. The couple starred in a short-lived unscripted A&E show, “The Governor’s Wife,” and he made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2014. He will turn 90 on Aug. 7.
- Before serving four terms in the Governor’s Mansion – more than any other Louisiana leader – Edwards represented a southwest Louisiana district in the U.S. House of Representatives for seven years.
- Born and raised in Cajun country, Edwards was propelled into office as much by his charm and sense of humor as anything else — which also helped keep him there even as whiffs of scandal swirled about him. Among his most memorable quotes, made during his 1983 race against incumbent Gov. Dave Treen: “The only way I can lose this race is to be caught in bed with a live boy or dead girl.”
- During that same race, which Edwards indeed ended up winning, he also said, “”Dave Treen is so slow it takes him an hour and a half to watch ’60 Minutes.'”
- Edwards was the second former Louisiana governor to be convicted on federal charges. The first was Richard Leche, who was found guilty in 1940 of taking road-construction kickbacks. Leche was part of the Huey P. Long machine, and this case was part of the Louisiana Scandals that emerged after Long’s assassination in 1935. Leche resigned three months before he was indicted. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and served 3 ½ before President Harry S. Truman pardoned him.
- This was not Edwards’ first time as a defendant in federal court. He was acquitted of bribery charges in a 1986 case in which he and four other men were charged with taking nearly $2 million in exchange for preferential treatment for companies that dealt with stage hospitals.
- Edwards and David Duke had more in common than being opponents in a bitter 1991 gubernatorial runoff. For about a year, starting in April 2003, both men were serving time in federal prisons in Texas. Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was incarcerated in Big Spring, about 270 miles west of the Fort Worth prison where Edwards was confined. Duke had pleaded guilty to bilking his supporters and cheating on his income taxes.
- Edwards’ third wife is 51 years his junior. She was born during his second term. They became friends while he was in prison — first with letters, then with visits — and were married in the Hotel Monteleone on July 29, 2011.
- When warned by his brother, Marion Edwards, that having sex with a woman so much younger than him could be dangerous, Edwards reportedly quipped, “Well, Marion … if she dies, she dies.”
Throughout his long political career, Edwards had always cultivated the image of a suave rogue with a quick wit, abundant charm and an uncanny knowledge of the way politics is played. There were always rumors of corruption, but Edwards devotees, of whom there were many, shrugged them off as just part of the package that was Edwin Edwards. After all, they said, he beat the rap in 1986. In the 1991 gubernatorial runoff against Duke, the former Klansman, that history was acknowledged with a wink, with bumper stickers that said: “Vote for the crook — it’s important!” The successful prosecution of Edwards in 2000, however, sent a clear signal that the time for that attitude had passed.