B.R. class of '91 majoring in scandal

Of 8 elected statewide, 5 have been convicted

By Susan Finch
Staff writer/The Times-Picayune


The campaign bumper stickers backing Edwin Edwards' return to the governorship for a fourth term in 1991 have become legend: "Vote for the crook, it's important."

But Edwards, who lost a federal appeal Friday and appears headed to prison, was not the only state official elected that year to wind up on the wrong side of the law.

Of eight politicians who won statewide office in Louisiana's 1991 elections, five have been convicted of criminal offenses.

One has been in prison since early last year, while another, in addition to Edwards, is apparently about to start doing time after the appeal of his conviction also was rejected Friday. A fourth was indicted Thursday by a state grand jury, and the fifth has been penalized for drunken driving.

Federal prosecutors had tried unsuccessfully to convict Edwards before his 1991 comeback victory over former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke. Edwards began his political career on the Crowley City Council and served in the U.S. House of Representatives before claiming the Governor's Mansion.

He was acquitted of federal racketeering charges during his third term and had returned to private life in 1996 after declining to seek election to a fifth. Federal prosecutors finally nailed Edwards in May of 2000 when a jury in Baton Rouge convicted him and others, including his son Stephen Edwards, of extorting payments in exchange for the promise of riverboat gambling licenses awarded during and after his final term in office.

Friday's decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means Edwards, 75, could be forced to begin serving his 10-year sentence even though he can continue to appeal.

The 5th Circuit took similar action Friday in the appeal of former state Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown. He was convicted two years ago of lying to FBI agents probing a failed insurance company and faces a six-month sentence, which he likely will serve in a halfway house.

Brown was twice re-elected insurance commissioner after first winning the job in the 1991 election. He began his political career as a state representative and in 1979 was elected to the first of two terms as secretary of state.

Brown was the third Louisiana insurance commissioner in a row to be convicted on criminal charges. His predecessors Sherman Bernard and Doug Green were found guilty of granting favors in exchange for money while they headed the Insurance Department.

Like Edwards and Brown, longtime Commissioner of Elections Jerry Fowler was on the 1991 ballot. Fowler, who had held the elections office since 1979, won again in 1991 and four years after that, but was voted out of office in 1999.

Late in 2000, Fowler pleaded guilty to state and federal charges stemming from kickbacks taken from contractors selling voting machine parts and maintenance services. Early last year, he began serving a five-year sentence in a Texas federal prison.

Veteran state Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Bob Odom, another of the successful 1991 candidates, was indicted Thursday by a state grand jury on charges of bribery, felony theft, extortion, malfeasance in office, filing false public records, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

The grand jury's 21-count indictment said the crimes began in 1980 and have continued through this year, spanning Odom's entire time in office. Odom has proclaimed his innocence.

Secretary of State Fox McKeithen, son of former Gov. John McKeithen, won a second term in 1991 and has been returned to office repeatedly, most recently in 1999, despite struggles with alcoholism. Two years ago he pleaded guilty to a charge of driving while intoxicated. A Baton Rouge judge gave him a sentence of 48 hours of house arrest, a $1,000 fine, 32 hours of community service and six months of unsupervised probation.

Attorney General Richard Ieyoub had been district attorney for Calcasieu Parish when he sought voter approval in the fall of 1991 to become attorney general. He won the job, succeeding longtime Attorney General William Guste, and has held onto it ever since.

Ieyoub ran unsuccessfully in 1996 for the U.S. Senate in a field that included Mary Landrieu, the race's eventual winner, and others. His campaign stumbled after news reports that he had used campaign money to buy carpet for his home with campaign donations. In 1998, the U.S. Justice Department closed a two-year probe of Ieyoub's campaign spending without an indictment.

The only two 1991 winners who have not faced a criminal probe are Landrieu, who was re-elected state treasurer without opposition, and Melinda Schwegmann, elected lieutenant governor. Landrieu went on to win her U.S. Senate seat. Schwegmann gave up her job to run unsuccessfully for governor in 1995. She was elected to a state House seat in 1997.

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Susan Finch can be reached at
sfinch@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3340.


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