The Law Finally Catches Up to Edwin Edwards

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The only real crime at former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards' trial — well, besides the 17 counts of racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy that a Baton Rouge jury convicted him of Tuesday — was that Edwards was prevented by a judge's silencing order from talking about the verdict. Luckily, after two previous trials, 22 grand jury investigations (by Edwards' own count), and four gubernatorial terms on the very edge of the law, the 72-year-old Edwards, who could now spend the rest of his life in prison, was able to skirt that one too, a little. "The Chinese have a saying that if you sit by the river long enough, the dead body of your enemy will come floating down the river," he said afterward, flanked by his daughter and 35-year-old wife, Candy. "I suppose the feds sat by the river long enough, and here comes my body." At which point the tight smile of Edwards' daughter collapsed and she began to cry.

It's been an oh-so-Louisiana run for Edwards, whom nobody but the feds ever wanted to kick around. They got him for extorting money from businessmen seeking Louisiana casino licenses, including star witness Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, who got a reduced sentence for testifying about his own $400,000 bribe to Edwards. He was a bad boy, but the voters never cared; Edwards liked to joke that he'd never have to leave office unless he was "caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy." Edwards was a charmer, a scamp, a honey-tongued governor perfectly matched to his state who apparently had more bag men than press secretaries, and was loved for that, in the great and unique local tradition of Earl and Huey Long. Return me to office, he once implored voters, "or there won't be anything left to steal." They did.

But this wasn't an election, and when the verdict hit the bayou Tuesday night, it's a safe bet that more than a few porch-dwellers were shaking their heads at the thought of this Gulliver finally succumbing to the little men of the system. "A lot of people were surprised that Edwin, who has always been so smart, let them get so much information on him," Bernie R. Pinsonat, a Baton Rouge pollster, told the New York Times. "They had tapes in his office, tapes in his house, and they obviously nailed him. Regardless of what happens from here on out, it is the end of an era."