Archive for Saturday, July 7, 2007

Man accused of extorting Belliard sentenced

July 7, 2007

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— An Illinois man accused of trying to extort $150,000 from a former St. Louis Cardinal after claiming the player impregnated the man's daughter was sentenced Friday to less time than recommended under federal sentencing guidelines.

George Edwards, 49, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry to one year and one day in prison. It was less than the recommended range of 21 to 27 months, based on Edwards' past criminal convictions. Perry said she considered the case's unusual circumstances.

More than a dozen family members and friends of Edwards, of the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Ill., briefly broke into applause as the judge delivered Edwards' sentence in a St. Louis courtroom. His mother dabbed tears from her eyes, and one of his supporters whispered, "Yesss."

Edwards pleaded guilty on April 23 to wire fraud in the extortion case that targeted former Cardinals second baseman Ronnie Belliard.

The extortion target was not identified by name in the courtroom or in court documents. But a person familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity when the case was pending, told The Associated Press the athlete is Belliard. He is a married father of two children who spent part of last season with the Cardinals and now plays for the Washington Nationals.

Prosecutors argued that Edwards sought $150,000 from the athlete in exchange for keeping quiet about the athlete supposedly getting Edwards' daughter pregnant after the pair met last fall at a local nightclub.

"This public figure, this celebrity had, for lack of a better term, a one-night stand with Mr. Edwards' daughter," Edwards' lawyer, public defender Kevin Curran, said, adding that the player never spoke to the young woman again.

The case's federal prosecutor, Tom Albus, said Edwards was able to play on the celebrity's fear of what negative publicity might mean. Edwards hadn't just been reacting to the situation, Albus said, but rather was involved in something that took several weeks, giving him plenty of time to exercise better judgment.

According to the indictment, Edwards told the athlete's agents during a telephone call that a paternity test proved the athlete impregnated the daughter, then lied when he said certain health care providers had tended to his daughter before an eventual miscarriage.

Even after the supposed miscarriage, according to the indictment, Edwards said he and his daughter still wanted to be paid to keep them from telling the media.

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