Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards and six other men pleaded innocent Friday to charges they reaped millions of dollars by rigging hospital development in the state.
The governor was arraigned on 50 counts of racketeering, mail fraud and wire fraud. His brother, his nephew and four business associates also pleaded innocent to similar charges.
Edwards--his fingerprints and mug shot already in the federal files--was released on $100,000 unsecured bond, as were the others. All will be allowed unlimited travel within the United States.
No trial date was set.
"I'm a little sad, but life is full of ups and downs. Everybody has problems," Edwards told reporters outside the federal courthouse.
The governor, who faces 265 years in prison and $74,000 in fines if convicted on all counts, and the other suspects were indicted after a seven-month investigation led by U.S. Attorney John Volz.
Volz said he expects to bring the governor to trial within 90 days and anticipates a trial lasting three to four weeks.
Charged with the governor are his brother Marion Edwards, a Realtor; business associates Ronald Falgout and James Wyllie; businessman Gus Mijalis; architect Perry Segura, and Charles David Isbell, the governor's nephew and his partner in a real estate firm.
Edwards, who had escaped six previous federal grand jury probes without an indictment, has acknowledged that he made more than $1.95 million while out of office as a partner in Health Services Development Corp., of which Falgout and Wyllie are officers.
Once back in office, Edwards exempted five proposed Health Services Development facilities from a statewide moratorium on hospital and nursing home construction. By receiving the permits, Falgout and Wyllie were able to merge with national health care corporations interested in developing the facilities.
The indictment charges the alleged scheme netted the governor nearly $2 million and Marion Edwards received about $1 million.