A&E raised more than a few eyebrows when they announced they would be airing a reality series titled The Governor’s Wife based on the lives of former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards and his wife Trina Edwards, who is more than 50 years younger than the 85-year-old Edwards. But it wasn’t just the couple’s age difference, or the fact that they just recently had a child together, that had folks talking about the show, it was the fact that the couple met while Edwards was serving a ten-year prison sentence! So, what was Governor Edwin Edwards arrested for?
Edwin Washington Edwards served an unprecedented four terms as Louisiana Governor from 1972–1980, 1984–1988 and 1992–1996, and he was plagued with scandal throughout. As you may have guessed by his continued eligibility, Edwards was able to avoid conviction up until 2002 when he was found guilty of on seventeen counts, including racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud, for which he was sentenced to ten years in prison.
I’ve put together a rough history of Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards legal issues, culminating with a 1998 federal indictment and the 2002 conviction. (You can read more about the conviction and those charges toward the bottom of this post.)
During his first two terms, Edwards invested in a New Orleans office building real estate project that was to be called “One Edwards Square,” openly admitted to being an avid gambler (going so far as to demonstrate his gambling skills to the press while in Las Vegas), and his commissioner of administration, Charles Roemer, was convicted of receiving bribes and being connected to Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. Edwards was not implicated in Roemer’s arrest.
In addition to all those scandals, Edwards also dealt with accusations from former bodyguard Clyde Vidrine who accused Edwards of corruption, including, but not limited to, the sale of government posts. The investigation stalled after Vidrine’s credibility was successfully called into question by Edwards. Vidrine would later publish the book Just Takin’ Orders: A Southern Governor’s Watergate, which detailed Edwards’ questionable actions, including his gambling trips and extramarital affairs. Clyde Vidrine was shot and killed in broad daylight on the steps of the Caddo Parish court house in downtown Shreveport in 1986. The shooter was a man named James Cummings, who was the estranged husband of a woman Vidrine was guarding at the time.
Edwards returned to office in 1984, and controversy was not far behind. From Wikipedia:
In February 1985, soon after his third term began, Edwards was forced to stand trial on charges of mail fraud, obstruction of justice, and bribery, brought by U.S. Attorney John Volz. The charges were centered around an alleged scheme in which Edwards and his associates received almost two million dollars in exchange for granting preferential treatment to companies dealing with state hospitals. Edwards proclaimed his innocence and insisted that the charges were politically motivated by Volz and the Republican Party. The first trial resulted in a mistrial in December 1985, while a second trial in 1986 resulted in an acquittal.
Even after successfully beating the Volz indictment, Edwin Edwards’ popularity was in decline. Despite his acquittal, the trial brought many sordid details of Edwards’s conduct under public scrutiny. It was revealed that during frequent gambling trips to Las Vegas, Edwards lost hundreds of thousands of dollars under aliases such as T. Wong and E. Lee, later paying these gambling debts using suitcases stuffed with cash of unknown origin.
Edwards ability to avoid jail finally reached its limits in 2002. Patrick Graham, an entrepreneur in for-profit prisons, outed Edwards for allegedly taking $845,000 as part of a plan to build a prison in La Salle Parish. Edwin Edwards was federally indicted in 1998, and the prosecution would subsequently release audio, video, and transcripts of Edwards’ conversations and interactions that appeared to show him involved in criminal activity. In addition, San Francisco 49ers owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. admitted to giving Edwards $400,000 in exchange for Edwards’s help in getting a casino license.
Edwards was found guilty on seventeen of twenty-six counts, including racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud; his son Stephen was convicted on 18 counts. “I did not do anything wrong as a governor, even if you accept the verdict as it is, it doesn’t indicate that,” Edwards told the press after his conviction. On his way to prison he said, “I will be a model prisoner, as I have been a model citizen”. From 2002 to 2004 Edwin Edwards was incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.
In 2005, Edwards was moved to the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale in Allen Parish, where he served his sentence as inmate #03128-095. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, he was scheduled to be released on July 6, 2011. Efforts have been underway since his imprisonment to obtain a presidential pardon or commutation for Edwards, whose 80th birthday was August 7, 2007. … Former President George H. W. Bush also supported commuting Edwards’ sentence to time served and wrote a letter to the pardon attorney for his son, then-President George W. Bush. However, Bush denied a pardon for Edwards.
On January 13, 2011, Edwards was released from prison and served the remainder of his sentence at a halfway house. His sentence ended on July 6, 2011 and he began three years of probation, which ended early on February 7, 2013, due to good behavior.
The Governor’s Wife premieres October 27 at 10/9c on A&E.