49ers Owner To Avoid Jail Time

San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. will pay a $250,000 fine and avoid prison under a plea agreement with prosecutors investigating former Gov. Edwin Edwards, according to a newspaper report.

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, citing an unidentified source, said Thursday that DeBartolo testified Sept. 24 before a federal grand jury in Baton Rouge after reaching the plea agreement in the scheme to illegally influence the awarding of the state's last riverboat casino license.

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Minor details of the plea agreement still are being negotiated, but the $250,000 fine appears set, the source was quoted as saying.

"Things are less fluid now than a couple of weeks ago, but they're still a little fluid," the source said.

DeBartolo's statements before the grand jury could be used as evidence if the case goes to trial, and DeBartolo could be called as a witness for the prosecution, legal experts said.

DeBartolo will plead guilty to a "minor offense," the source said. It's unclear whether the offense is a felony or a misdemeanor.

DeBartolo, under voluntary suspension as the 49ers' owner, hopes for the least severe charge possible because his attempts to regain control of the 49ers from his sister are at risk under NFL rules that give commissioner Paul Tagliabue broad discretion to ban or punish owners involved in criminal activity.

Eddie DeBartolo
Eddie DeBartolo will pay a $250,000 fine to avoid prison. (AP)

DeBartolo's legal troubles also have stalled the team's attempts to build a $500 million stadium to be financed in part by San Francisco taxpayers.

No date has been set for DeBartolo to enter his plea, but sources said it probably will be done in October.

Lead prosecutor Jim Letten has told defense attorneys that indictments of Edwards, his son Stephen and several associates will be sought before Oct. 12. Surces familiar with the case said DeBartolo is likely to enter his plea before the indictments are issued.

New Orleans-based U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan, orchestrating the Edwards investigation, declined to comment when asked Wednesday about DeBartolo's agreement or to confirm whether Letten, first assistant U.S. attorney, has set a deadline for indictments.

Jordan said prosecutors are under no obligation to seek indictments before deadlines set by his assistants.

"If there were previous discussions between defense counsel and prosecutors, it doesn't matter," Jordan said. "It's really my statements that bind the government."

Prosecutors say DeBartolo was involved in one of five schemes to illegally influence the awarding of riverboat casino licenses.

DeBartolo paid Edwards $400,000 in cash one day before his partnership with Hollywood Casino won the state's last riverboat casino license with a proposal for a Bossier City gambling complex.

Edwards has said the cash covered legal and lobbying services.

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