By Kevin McGill
Friday, November 28, 2008
Francis Grevemberg, 94, a former state police superintendent who led a sledgehammer-swinging crackdown against illegal gambling in Louisiana in the 1950s, died Nov. 24 in Conyers, Ga. He had respiratory problems after surgery for a broken hip.
Mr. Grevemberg was credited with leading raids that resulted in troopers smashing about 7,000 slot machines and mothballing thousands more when he served under then-Gov. Robert Kennon from 1952 to 1956.
In a 1989 interview, Mr. Grevemberg said gambling-related corruption was so pervasive in Louisiana in the 1950s that he had to keep the raids secret from local sheriffs and police chiefs and some of his own troopers for fear they would warn the targets.
He received death threats, and an attempt was made to kidnap his twin sons, then 2 1/2, from their New Orleans home months after he took office.
"Honestly, if I had known what I was getting into, I would never have taken that job," he said.
Mr. Grevemberg broke a long media silence in that 1989 interview, which he granted because Louisiana was on the verge of legalizing a state lottery, a step that would be followed by legalized casino gambling and video poker machines in bars and truck stops.
"This is the worst thing we could do to this state, its image and, principally, its people," he said of the lottery. He also said that, if casinos were allowed to spread, there would be more corruption. He appeared prescient years later when former governor Edwin Edwards was convicted in 2000 of racketeering in the handing out of riverboat casino licenses.
In an interview in 1990 with an in-house state police newsletter, the Louisiana Trooper, Mr. Grevemberg credited James McLain, a reporter for the Associated Press, with alerting him to just how pervasive gambling was in the state, with casinos operating with no interference from local authorities in New Orleans and surrounding parishes.
"So here this reporter comes, into my office," Mr. Grevemberg said. "I've been there less than a week and he lays out all this evidence of illegal gambling. And he asks me, 'Colonel, what are you going to do?' I told him that I trusted him and that I believed what he had brought to me."
He told McLain that state law against gambling would be enforced. He followed up with warnings to local law enforcement officials and an internal probe of state police that resulted in dismissal of troopers who had ties to corrupt local officials.
Louisiana governors were limited to one term in the 1950s. When Kennon left office, Mr. Grevemberg left state police and made a run for governor, finishing well behind Earl Long in 1956. Long ended the crackdown.
Ronnie Jones, assistant to current superintendent Mike Edmonson, said he is convinced that illegal gambling, while it certainly existed, never flourished again on the level it did in the pre-Grevemberg years. "The people I've talked to, older troopers, agree that illegal gambling was never the same after the Grevemberg years," he said.
Mr. Grevemberg was a south Louisiana native who grew up in New Orleans. He enlisted in the National Guard at 18 and served in an anti-aircraft battalion during World War II, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel, according to state police.
Survivors include his wife, Dorothy; and two sons.