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April 16, 2014

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Santini testifies

BATON ROUGE, La. - If former casino owner Robert Guidry really did toss a payoff to former Gov. Edwin Edwards' son in April 1997, an FBI agent who had his eye on the two that day missed it.

Agent Geoffrey Santini today detailed his attempts to watch Edwin and Stephen Edwards and Guidry while the three allegedly met at a Baton Rouge restaurant.

He said he observed from different vantage points while trying not to be noticed, at times from a nearby parking lot, at times from his car as he drove around the restaurant.

Santini said he saw Stephen Edwards' van in the parking lot. He said he saw Edwin Edwards standing outside near a red Cadillac. He said he later saw Guidry driving away in a red Cadillac.

But as to Guidry's recent testimony that he met Stephen Edwards on a nearby road and tossed a payoff into the younger Edwards' van, Santini admitted he could not back it up.

"You did not see anything handed from one person to another?" asked Jim Cole, Stephen Edwards' lawyer.

"That's correct," Santini answered.

"You did not see any package passed from one car to another car along this heavily trafficked Highland Road?"

"That's correct."

Also today, a former business partner of former Edwards aide Andrew Martin testified about the tugboat company the two began after Edwards left office.

Greg Duvieilh was testifying under a plea agreement stemming from his guilty plea in a tax evasion case involving Martin.

Duvieilh backed up earlier testimony from Guidry. He testified today that Andrew Martin told him that Martin and the Edwardses had a deal with Guidry for 3 percent of the gross revenue of a casino that they were helped him get licensed.

Duvieilh said Martin told him the deal with Guidry had not been in writing, although "Andrew was telling me he was thinking about trying to get it put into writing."

Defense attorneys cross-examining Duvieilh noted he once signed an affidavit for a person who made a loan to the tugboat business saying he knew of nothing illegal done by Martin. Duvieilh said he never had the affidavit notarized and later tried to retract it.

The Edwardses, Martin and four others are on trial for what prosecutors claim was a series of schemes to illegally profit from riverboat casino licenses. Testimony so far has been dominated by Guidry, former owner of the Treasure Chest, who wound up six days on the stand on Thursday.

Guidry, testifying under a plea agreement with prosecutors, said he made a deal in 1994 with then-Gov. Edwards, Stephen Edwards and defendant Andrew Martin. The alleged deal called for Edwards to help Guidry get a lucrative license to run a riverboat casino, in return for which he would begin paying the three $100,000 a month after Edwards left office.

Santini wrote the FBI surveillance report regarding a meeting between Guidry and Stephen Edwards in April 1997, allegedly the time when the last payment was made.

Guidry testified that he met the Edwardses for lunch. After Edwin Edwards left, Guidry and Stephen Edwards met briefly in one car and then drove away in separate cars, Guidry testified.

The two drove to a side street, where Guidry tossed a bag of $65,000 into Stephen Edwards' van as they parked next to each other, Guidry testified.

Santini's FBI report never mentioned the meeting in the car or the money exchange, Stephen Edwards' attorney, Jim Cole, pointed out when questioning Guidry.

The meeting did occur, insisted Guidry who spent his final day on the stand being questioned alternately by assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Harper and defense attorneys. Harper sought to bolster Guidry's allegations, about which defense attorneys attempted to raise doubts.

Cole continued to question whether Guidry kept enough cash on hand to make the alleged extortion payments totaling about $1.5 million.

Guidry had testified early on that he kept between $1 million and $1.5 million in cash in his home, stashed away in various hiding places, including his freezer. Even then the amount was an estimate, Guidry said Monday.

Under questioning from Harper, Guidry reviewed his finances from 1994 until the time the last payment was allegedly made in April 1997. Between 1994 and 1996 alone, Guidry said he made $43 million.

Guidry said he might have had more than $2 million of that in cash at his house even after the last payment was made in 1997.

"You expect the jury to believe you forgot about one million to one-and-a-half millions dollars?" Cole later asked.

Guidry repeated that he was unsure how much cash he really had, but maintained he paid the three men.

Guidry has pleaded guilty to an extortion charge for paying the Edwardses and Martin a total of $1.5 million to ensure state approval of the Treasure Chest casino. Guidry was fined $3.5 million and could face five years in prison. He said he made about $34 million with the Treasure Chest between 1994 and 1997.

He sold the casino in October 1997 for $72 million to Boyd Gaming.

The wear and tear of the trial was beginning to show for Guidry, who at one point, while lawyers conferred at the bench with Polozola, leaned back in the witness chair and closed his eyes.

"Six days on the witness stand is a long time," he said later as he left the courthouse.

Also Monday, a juror who had fallen asleep during testimony last week was dismissed by Polozola and replaced by an alternate.

He was identified as juror number 453, a laborer from East Baton Rouge Parish, and one of only two black jury members. He was replaced by a white male.

"What happened was by no means intentional by Mr. 453," Polozola said.

During jury selection, the man had indicated he approved of legal gambling and occasionally visited riverboat casinos. He disagreed with the idea that Edwards was responsible for past or current problems with the state gambling industry. He expressed no opinion on the use of wiretaps and plea bargains.

He was replaced by juror No. 235, a 49-year-old white man from East Baton Rouge Parish. He works as a research technologist in a laboratory.

The man said he does not oppose gambling, and that he does not think people who work in the industry are more likely to break the law. He agreed somewhat that there was corruption in the awarding of riverboat casino licenses. He disagrees with plea bargains, but approved the use of wiretaps.

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