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Former La. governor checks into prison

FORT WORTH, Texas, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards entered a federal prison Monday to serve a 10-year sentence for his role in rigging state licenses for riverboat casinos in the state where his flamboyant style is legendary.

Edwards, 75, voluntarily turned himself in at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, telling reporters gathered outside the gate that he is innocent of the charges and hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn his May 2000 conviction.

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"I did not do anything wrong as a governor, even if you accept the verdict as it is, it doesn't indicate that," he said, "And I'd like that clear."

In a recent interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Edwards said he had only a vague concept of what prison life might be like.

"I have no idea," he said, "except that it will be rigid and structured and disciplined. You get up at a certain time. You eat lunch at a certain time. Five times a day you have to be at a certain place for what they call countdown ... (but) whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do."

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The Bureau of Prisons assigned Edwards to the Fort Worth medical center because of recent heart problems. He will have to serve at least 8 ½ years of the sentence even if he gets time off for good behavior.

Edwards had hoped to serve his time with his son Stephen, who was convicted in the same case as his father along with three other associates. Stephen was to begin his seven-year prison Monday at a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas.

Edwards, who was legendary for his folksy humor, high living and gambling, was the dominant force in Louisiana politics for nearly 30 years. He served two terms as governor from 1972-80, a third term from 1984-88, and a fourth from 1992-96. He had been acquitted twice before in federal prosecutions.

In his most recent trial, prosecutors alleged that Edwards and the other defendants extorted payoffs and rigged state licensing of gambling boats in Louisiana from 1991 through 1997.

Four others pleaded guilty in 1998 to charges related to the Edwards case, and three of them were key witnesses for the government in the four-month trial. One of them was Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers football team.

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In the trial, DeBartolo testified Edwards extorted $400,000 from him in return for ensuring that he received a state license to operate a riverboat casino. He later withdrew his license application, after hearing about FBI probe.

Edwards said the money he received from DeBartolo was for legitimate consulting work.

The former governor said he hopes to complete his autobiography in prison.

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