Sources: feds investigate attorney Luke Edwards in bribery case

by Leslie Turk

Sources say Luke Edwards, who once worked as an ADA and then as a public defender in the 15th Judicial District, is one of the Lafayette lawyers being investigated by the feds for his alleged role in an OWI bribery scheme involving a local PI and officials within DA Mike Harson's office and the district courthouse.

According to sources with knowledge of the federal extortion and bribery investigation, which involves OWI and other criminal cases prosecuted by 15th Judicial Attorney Mike Harson, Luke Edwards is one of an unknown number of local attorneys being targeted by the feds. Two sources tell IND Monthly Edwards received an Oct. 12 "target letter" from U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley's office, giving him an opportunity to cooperate in exchange for reduced charges. KLFY obtained a copy of one of the letters Finley's office sent out (with the addressee redacted) and posted it here.

Edwards did not return a message left on his cell phone last week or a phone call to his office Wednesday morning.

This photo of Luke Edwards was captured from a commercial promoting his law firm on YouTube.

A number of guilty pleas are expected in the case, according to our sources, but it remains unclear who plans to cut a deal, whether any of them have been negotiated and when the pleas will be entered. No one has been charged in the case.

It is unknown what the feds have on Edwards in terms of the alleged bribery scheme, but what is clear is that his employment history in the 15th Judicial District - including stints with the district attorney and public defender's offices - has been rocky.

Edwards' first position within the 15th JDC was as an assistant district attorney. His departure from the office of District Attorney Mike Harson - who has yet to respond to a list of questions e-mailed by the IND Thursday - correlates with his arrest by Wildlife & Fisheries agents in July 2006 for operating a watercraft while intoxicated. That first OWI charge was eventually reduced in March 2007 to reckless operation by prosecutors in the 11th Judicial District (DeSoto and Sabine parishes).

Shortly after pleading, Edwards was contracted by the local public defender's office in July 2007. Like his job under Harson, it too came to an abrupt end when in April 2012 he was arrested again for OWI, this time by Louisiana State Police while he was driving his BMW sedan, which he crashed into a ditch in St. Landry Parish.

During both arrests, Edwards refused field sobriety and Breathalyzer tests.

In an e-mail sent Friday afternoon, Paul Marx, head of the 15th Judicial District Public Defenders' Office, tells the IND that Edwards was a contract worker assigned only to felony cases.

"He was not an employee," writes Marx, "and his contract was terminated effective May 1 ... in a notice sent April 17, 2012. My recollection is he was not in compliance with performance required in the contract."

Surprisingly, the April 2012 OWI arrest appears to have already been dismissed, expunged from Edwards' record, according to 27th Judicial District Attorney Earl Taylor's office.

On Friday Taylor could find no information on the case in his records.

"It's not showing up in the felony system," Taylor says. "It very well may have been dismissed. I just don't show it in the record. I will have to get back to you next week."

One IND Monthly source with a line on the federal investigation, a local attorney in private practice, wasn't surprised that Taylor's office can't locate the case file on Edwards, noting lost case files are a problem within the district. Also, the attorney doubts there's a connection between Edwards' OWI arrests and Robert Williamson, the private investigator who is a top suspect in the federal extortion and bribery investigation. Read more about Williamson's checkered past here.

"I don't think you will find a causal link between any handling of Mr. Edwards' criminal case in St. Landry parish and Robert Williamson," says the Lafayette attorney. "The St. Landry parish criminal justice system can be quite dysfunctional. The district attorney's office, the judges and the clerk of court are rarely on the same page. It is just as likely that someone simply lost the file. In my experience that has happened on more than one occasion."