Gov. Edwards Often A Big Winner At Craps, Casino Official Says
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Gov. Edwin Edwards was sometimes a big winner shooting craps in Nevada, despite government evidence that he owed hundreds of thousands of dollars after some gambling expeditions, a casino official testified Tuesday.
Verne Welch, assistant general manager at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe casino, testified that evidence showing Edwards’ debts of about $686,000 at Harrah’s over the three years beginning December 1981 did not point out that the governor won about $562,500 during the 10 trips cited by federal prosecutors.
Neither Welch nor Edwards, who gave a news conference outside the courthouse, explained why he did not pay back the debts immediately out of his winnings, or if he gambled the money away at other casinos.
Edwards said he could not comment on trial testimony because of a judge’s gag order.
Prosecutors say Edwards ran up $2 million in debts at Nevada casinos oveer three years and owed as much as $800,000 at one time. The debts were a possible motive for his involvement in an alleged $10 million hospital and nursing home investment scam in which he made $2 million, prosecutors say.
Edwards and seven others are charged with racketeering and fraud, accused of using their influence to gain state certification for health care projects in which they held interests.
Other defendants include the governor’s brother, Marion; their nephew, Charles Isbell; and their business associates, Ronald Falgout, James Wyllie Jr., Philip Brooks, and Gus Mijalis.
Earlier testimony in the 11-week-old trial showed that Edwards left various Nevada casinos owing hundreds of thousands of dollars. At least twice, he paid off the debts by giving suitcases full of cash to people sent from the casinos.
Edwards, during his trips to Harrah’s, signed for many thousands of dollars worth of chips, went to the dice table to shoot craps, then left the casino - whether he won or lost - without immediately paying his debt for the chips, Welch said.
″Do you permit that?″ asked Edwards’ chief defense lawyer, James Neal.
″Yes,″ Welch replied.
During cross-examination, U.S. Attorney John Volz asked Welch why Edwards used aliases, such as E. Lee and T. Wong, when he gambled.
Welch said many famous people, including entertainer Liza Minnelli and former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin, used phony names at Harrah’s to avoid having their names mentioned publicly when they were paged for telephone calls, to turn attention away from themselves and for a variety of other reasons.
Volz suggested the use of aliases could make tracing winnings and losses more difficult.
Welch said casino workers in the gambling areas knew who Edwards was and kept track of his progress. But under persistent questioning from Volz, he admitted the records might be incomplete and that a person using an alias might be able to avoid detection of some of his winnings or losses.