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October 18, 2017

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Edwards trial: Lawyer talks of Tarver’s predictions

BATON ROUGE, La. - A Baton Rouge lobbyist and lawyer told a jury Thursday about a political ally of Edwin Edwards who boasted that he knew who would get licenses to operate riverboat casinos in Louisiana months before the licenses were issued.

C.J. Blache was the opening witness as prosecutors launched a new phase in the former governor's federal racketeering trial, which began Jan. 10.

Edwards, his son Stephen, and five other men are accused in a series of alleged schemes to profit from the issuing of casino licenses during and after Edwards' last administration, which ended in January of 1996.

Blache was the attorney for Jazz Enterprises, which eventually opened the Belle of Baton Rouge riverboat casino after being licensed in 1994.

But, prosecutors said, Jazz had to fend off demands for a piece of the boat's action from Edwards' friend and codefendant Bobby Johnson. And another Edwards co-defendant, state Sen. Greg Tarver, allegedly told Blache that getting allies of Edwards involved in the project would help.

Blache said Jazz had planned to seek licenses to operate in Baton Rouge and Monroe about the time he discussed the issues with Tarver in 1993.

Tarver, Blache said, flatly told him to forget about Monroe.

"They ain't going to make it. Monroe isn't going to get a boat," Blache quoted Tarver as saying.

Tarver then told Blache that former state Senate president Sammy Nunez, former state Rep. Sherman Copelin and businessman Norbert Simmons were applying for boats, Blache said.

All had connections to Edwards, who, as governor, appointed members of the now-defunct Riverboat Gaming Commission and the head of state police. The commission issued preliminary approval for the riverboats and state police issued the licenses.

"Edwards would be involved in those decisions," Blache said, again quoting Tarver.

Blache said he was not sure if Tarver was joking, but was concerned about the statement.

Tarver told Blache that he needed to get more minority involvement in the project.

Jazz was considering giving Blache, who is black, an interest in the casino but Tarver, who also is black, said Blache "wasn't the right minority."

"He said you couldn't just use a minority owner," Blache continued. "You had to use the right one."

Pressed by prosecutor Todd Greenberg, Blache said Tarver used the phrase "the right nigger."

"When black people are alone from you all," Blache told Greenberg, who is white, "we talk like that."

Tarver also mentioned that getting minority involvement would please "my man on the commission." Blache said he believed Tarver's man on the commission was Sam Gilliam, a black man from Shreveport.

Tarver suggested Blache hire Joe Delpit, a former state House member, for Jazz's food services, Blache said. And Tarver suggested that Jazz should hire his wife's office supply company, according to the testimony.

Tarver, while a codefendant in the case, is not accused of taking part in the Jazz scheme. Blache's testimony was used to demonstrate the influence Edwards and his allies supposedly wielded in the issuance of licenses.

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors concluded testimony on the cash expenditures of Edwin and Stephen Edwards. Josephine Beninati was the second of two FBI financial analysts called to bolster the case by saying the two men's records showed hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash expenditures with no apparent source for the cash - at a time when the men allegedly were receiving large cash payoffs.

Beninati said Stephen Edwards spent some $126,000 in cash in the mid 1990s for which the source could not be determined.

Stephen's lawyer, Jim Cole, attacked Beninati's analysis on several fronts.

Cole noted an April 1997 withdrawal of $114,000 from a Stepen Edwards account that Beninati apparently had not accounted for. Cole said Stephen used about $7,000 of it on his child's private school tuition. It was unclear what happened to the rest.

Cole said it was likely that Stephen Edwards kept the rest as cash. Beninati said she had never seen that check withdrawal.

Cole also said Beninati's figures did not take into account Stephen Edwards' interest in his father's Vail, Colo., condominium. Stephen Edwards had contributed $167,000 to the condo.

Edwin Edwards sold that condo in 1995 and purchased another one with a friend. Cole asked whether Beninati's chart took into account the fact that Edwin Edwards may have repaid his son the $167,000 in cash.

Beninati said she didn't, but if she had put such a payment on her chart, an earlier FBI witness' chart for Edwin Edwards finances would have reflected even more money unaccounted for from the former governor.