Edwin Edwards, a flamboyant, poker-playing former Louisiana governor convicted in a casino licensing scheme, died Monday. He was 93.
The four-term governor died of respiratory problems at his home in Gonzales, just southeast of Baton Rouge, the state capital. He had been under hospice care and was with family and friends at his death shortly after daybreak, according to the Associated Press.
Despite Edwards’ federal conviction and reputation for corruption and roguish behavior, supporters in his home state viewed the Democratic governor favorably as a champion of the downtrodden and marginalized. As a boy, he had seen a speech by populist Louisiana politician Huey Long. From that, Edwards said he adopted a philosophy that it is the job of government to “serve the needy, not the greedy.”
Family spokesman Lee Honeycutt said in a statement that Edwards recently recalled that he loved Louisiana and “always will.”
I have lived a good life, had better breaks than most, had some bad breaks, too, but that’s all part of it. I tried to help as many people as I could and I hope I did that, and I hope, if I did, that they will help others, too,” Edwards said toward the end of his life, according to Honeycutt.
Trina Scott Edwards, the former governor’s widow, said her husband’s last words were to their son Eli, who turns eight on Aug. 1.
“Eli told him every night, ‘I love you.’ And he told Eli, ‘I love you, too.’ Those were his last words,” she said.
Federal Gaming Conviction
After defeating neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in the 1991 governor’s race, Edwards “set up the mechanism” for legalized casino gambling in Louisiana, according to WWL-TV. The state now has 13 riverboat casinos, one land-based casino in New Orleans, and four racinos. Sports betting recently has been legalized in the state and is expected to be operational by next year.
In May 2000, Edwards was convicted for his role in the awarding of riverboat casino licenses. A federal jury found Edwards guilty on 17 counts of racketeering, mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering, according to news accounts.
San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. testified that he attempted to obtain a riverboat casino license by giving Edwards a briefcase with $400,000 in cash, according to reports. DeBartolo later pleaded guilty and was given two years probation and a $1 million fine. The NFL then pressured DeBartolo to turn the football team over to his sister.
After being released from a federal lockup in 2011, Edwards, then 83, married a prison pen pal, Trina Grimes Scott, then 32. She was his third wife.
“They sent me to prison for life, and I came out with a good-looking wife,” Edwards quipped.
Las Vegas Gambling Losses
Known to host $10,000-ante poker games at the governor’s mansion, Edwards came under fire in the 1980s when reports surfaced that he lost more than $2 million during 17 trips to Las Vegas casinos. During these Nevada gambling excursions, he used names such as T. Wong and T. Lee in an effort to hide his identity, according to the FBI.
Historian Lawrence Powell called Edwards, “The last of the buccaneer liberals who governed in the tradition of Huey Long,” the Washington Post reported.
“They were characterized by a redistributionist politics, where you could always see progress in lifting people out of poverty — but it was linked to easy political morals,” said Powell, a history professor emeritus at Tulane University in New Orleans.
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