BATON ROUGE, La. – Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, a charismatic populist who long dominated Louisiana politics, was released from federal prison Thursday after serving eight years on a corruption conviction and will be allowed to complete his sentence in home detention.
The four-term former Democratic governor, who led the state with easy charm and political cunning, arrived at a Baton Rouge halfway house on Thursday morning with his daughter Anna after leaving central Louisiana's Oakdale prison.
Asked how it felt to be out of prison, Edwards quipped, "I don't know yet." He refused further comment. He left two hours later, driven to Anna Edwards' house.
A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Chris Burke, said Edwards was granted home confinement rather than having to serve his remaining term at a halfway house. The 83-year-old former governor will be monitored and be required to stay in close contact with the halfway house and federal corrections officials.
Edwards went to prison in October 2002 on a 10-year sentence for a bribery and extortion scheme to rig Louisiana's riverboat casino licensing process during his final term in office, which ended in 1996.
He has maintained his innocence and blamed his conviction on former friends who he said turned against him and lied in their testimony — and on misinterpreted, secretly taped conversations.
"The man's served his time," said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten in New Orleans, whose office prosecuted Edwards. "He's obviously still completing the last portion of the sentence. I do hope he enjoys his freedom as he gets it — now and ultimately in the summertime."
Anna Edwards said she was ecstatic to have her father out of prison and added he was in good health.
"He promised me eight years ago that he would walk out. He kept it. He walked out," she said.
Known for his quick wit, Edwards was at the center of Louisiana politics for nearly half a century and has continued to attract public interest though he's been out of elected office for 15 years. Even as he was serving prison time, speculation persisted about whether the former governor would weigh in on the political scene when he emerged from prison.
While in prison, Edwards divorced his second wife, Candy, and worked on an authorized biography of his nearly 50-year-long political career.
Edwards, a lifelong populist, won his first office in 1954 when he was elected to the city council in Crowley. He later moved to the Louisiana Legislature and Congress, before serving as governor for 16 years between 1972 and 1996.
An astute politician, Edwards also had a reputation as a womanizer, a gambler — and as a target of federal prosecutors.
By his own count, Edwards was the subject of two dozen investigations. He was acquitted on racketeering charges in the 1980s related to hospital and nursing home investments and on fraud charges in October 2000 related to the liquidation of a failed insurance company.
Edwards' son, Stephen, also was convicted in the casino corruption case and was released from a Texas prison in 2007.