The past year has been a tumultuous one for Daniel Edwards, the fourth-term sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish. His sprawling north shore jurisdiction twice was inundated by record flooding, including the unprecedented deluge that brought the state to its knees over the summer.

The scene inside Edwards' spacious Hammond office was similarly surreal on Thursday, as the sheriff received a jarring visit from the federal government — an FBI raid that not even his older brother, Gov. John Bel Edwards, expected.

For hours, the most powerful official in Tangipahoa Parish watched in disbelief as more than two dozen federal investigators, armed with a search warrant with Daniel Edwards' name on it, swarmed through the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office.

The building was closed to the public for the day, alarming visitors who approached the parking lot only to be redirected by an FBI agent wearing tactical gear.

The raid proved as disruptive as a bomb threat, creating a spectacle that attracted television cameras from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. But whether the feds uncovered anything explosive in Edwards' files remains to be seen.

 

By the end of the day, the FBI had seized computers — including the sheriff's — as well as cellphones and case files.  

In the spirit of cooperation, federal authorities could have requested the materials outlined in the search warrants. But in a bold move that infuriated north shore law enforcement, the U.S. Justice Department took the items by force, dispatching teams of agents in broad daylight to both the Sheriff's Office and the Hammond Police Department.

"It's very unusual for the FBI to raid the office of a sitting governor's brother, irrespective of whether he's sheriff," one senior law enforcement official said. 

The daylong searches stemmed from a nearly year-old investigation into a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force based in New Orleans that has been accused of peddling narcotics and stealing cash, among other crimes.

Two former members of the multi-jurisdictional team, both of whom worked for the Tangipahoa Sheriff's Office, have been charged, while the former leader of the task force, Chad Scott, has been suspended indefinitely from the DEA.    

There are no indications that Edwards himself has become a target of the secretive probe, a point the sheriff sought to underscore Friday in brief remarks to reporters. But an investigation that for the past year has unfolded behind closed doors landed publicly at the sheriff's doorstep this week.

And its surprise appearance — in the form of a raid, rather than a subpoena — suggested that Edwards himself is under mounting scrutiny, delivering a black eye to a lawman who has campaigned on his integrity and honesty. 

"Aside from the two individuals who have been charged — Karl Newman and Johnny Domingue — no one in the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office has been notified that they are targets of the federal investigation," a strained-looking Edwards said Friday.

The sheriff then apologized for the inconvenience the raid caused and urged people to buckle up when riding in a car and to avoid drinking and driving before walking out of the room, ignoring questions from reporters. He would not say whether he has hired an attorney. 

The investigation also has placed the governor in an unenviable position, though by no means an unprecedented one for a high Louisiana officeholder. The two youngest of eight siblings, John Bel and Daniel Edwards remain very close, vacationing together and maintaining regular contact.

The brothers come from a long line of law enforcement in Tangipahoa Parish. Their father, Frank Edwards Jr., served three terms as sheriff; their older brother, Frank Edwards III, is the police chief of the town of Independence.      

"This certainly could affect the Edwards name," said Bernie Pinsonat, a Baton Rouge-based political consultant. "But I'm sure the governor is more concerned about his brother's well-being right now than he is about his own image or re-election. This is his brother, and he's probably very worried and hopeful that nothing comes of this." 

Even though the investigation is in the hands of federal authorities, the executive director of the state Republican Party, Jason Doré, said Friday that the governor owes the public assurances that his brother will not receive special treatment because of their close relationship. "(The governor) needs to come out and express what, if any, knowledge he has of the investigation and if he has encouraged law enforcement to treat his brother differently," Doré said.

Gov. Edwards' office offered minimal comment on the investigation, saying it had no information about it. But Edwards' administration took umbrage at political opponents capitalizing on the story about his brother. Richard Carbo, the governor's spokesman, called it "incredibly irresponsible" for the state GOP to make accusations about the federal investigation. 

While Daniel Edwards has played down his connections to the DEA task force, text messages and emails obtained by The Advocate show Edwards for years has had a close relationship with Scott, an agent of 17 years who remains at the center of the misconduct investigation. 

The friendship began even before Edwards was elected sheriff in 2003, at a time when Edwards was an assistant district attorney who prosecuted many drug cases Scott investigated. But the pair became even closer in recent years, swapping emails and text messages and sharing meals. 

"It was well known that Scott led what many considered to be local investigations, all with the blessing and approval of the sheriff," said a law enforcement official who has known both men for more than a decade. "Nobody's going to dispute that." 

Edwards and Scott became even closer following Edwards' election as sheriff, exchanging frequent emails and text messages and sharing meals. On several occasions, Edwards sent drafts of press releases to Scott and asked him to review them and offer feedback.

"Chad, do you have a problem with the way I reference DEA?" Edwards wrote in one example.

"Looks great to me," Scott replied.

In one text message, Edwards informed Scott he was in Baton Rouge for a meeting of the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association. "Stop by and I'll treat you to lunch," he texted.

"In Lafayette now," Scott replied.

"Perfect. Text me when you are parking," Edwards wrote back. 

In another message, Scott asked Edwards if he had a source for New Orleans Pelicans tickets because his son wanted to see the Houston Rockets play. Later, Edwards followed up to see if Scott was enjoying the game.

"Good for a basketball game," Scott replied.

In February, when then-Special Agent in Charge Keith Brown was abruptly transferred out of the DEA's New Orleans Field Division, Scott reached out to Edwards. "Sac was just removed," the agent wrote.

"Damn. Did you see that coming" Edwards replied.

"No its crazy," Scott texted back.


Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.