Casino Riverboats Politically Connected
Apr. 13, 1994
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ The state's fledgling gambling industry has become a jackpot for friends and family of Gov. Edwin Edwards.
- The governor's former law partner, William Broadhurst, has a $350,000 contract with Casino America, whose parent company owns half of a Bossier City riverboat.
- Edwards' son Stephen stands to earn up to $132,000 in legal fees from the Atlantic City-based Capital Gaming International, which is putting a boat in New Orleans. He also has done work for two other riverboat casinos.
- Stephen's father-in-law, Fred Lieux, will earn $2 million in a deal with a riverboat casino.
In all, seven of the state's 11 licensed riverboat casinos are linked to Edwards' relatives or political and financial backers.
Both Edwards and his son already have appeared before a state grand jury investigating Louisiana's gambling industry. So have some of the people who played high-stakes poker with Edwards at the governor's mansion.
But Edwards says there's nothing to worry about.
''People connected to me are in banks, land, shipping, transportation, all forms of endeavor because I've been governor (off and on) for 20 years,'' Edwards said. ''I'm not going to embrace the silly notion that just because people know me, they should be ostracized from a legitimate operation.''
Edwards is an old hand at grand jury testimony. His recent appearance was his 20th since he was first elected governor in 1972.
He was acquitted of federal racketeering charges in 1985. Last year, he appeared on ''60 Minutes'' and discussed his frequent gambling in Las Vegas.
State Attorney General Richard Ieyoub declined comment when asked if he was concerned about the casinos' links to Edwards.
''The state police has the power and the authority to grant the license,'' said Ieyoub, who also testified before the grand jury. ''I don't know the reasons they use for granting licenses. I'm not privy to those reasons.''
One focus of the grand jury investigation is how licenses are awarded to riverboat casinos.
Broadhurst, a close friend of the governor, has worked for two of the licensed casinos. He said he got the contracts because he was a good attorney, not because of his connection to Edwards.
Stephen Edwards has worked for three casinos.
One of those casinos, Capital Gaming, also paid $26 million to buy out a Shreveport consulting company's interest in the Crescent City Queen. The Shreveport company is owned by the nephew of Gus Mijalis, a longtime financial backer of the governor.
Lieux, Stephen Edwards' father-in-law, will earn $2 million by selling 200,000 shares of stock in St. Charles Gaming Company Inc.
State police are forcing Lieux to sell the stock because of his connection to an influence-peddling case several years ago that sent one of Edwards' aides to federal prison.
In another case, New Orleans businessman Vernon Shorty sold his 28 percent stake in the Belle of Orleans to its part-owner Norbert Simmons.
Shorty was promised $4 million when the boat begins operating. He is a business associate of assistant House Speaker Sherman Copelin, a close political ally of Edwards.
The governor's son also is the subject of a state ethics board investigation.
The board wants to determine if he violated an agreement not to sell goods or services to riverboat companies. The ethics code prohibits an elected official's immediate family from dealing with companies under his supervision.
Until last fall, Stephen Edwards was a director of a company trying to sell T-shirts, caps, mugs and other souvenirs to riverboat casinos. His attorney said the agreement did not cover legal services.
His brother and sisters also tried to get into riverboat-related business. All backed out when the ethics complaint was filed.