Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
Sherman Bernard, the former Louisiana insurance commissioner who served 26 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to extortion, and was a longtime figure in state and local politics, died Friday. He was 87.
His daughter Deanna said Mr. Bernard died peacefully in his sleep at his Marrero home.
Mr. Bernard was first elected insurance commissioner in 1971, the year Edwin Edwards took office as governor.
Mr. Bernard would later earn the dubious distinction of becoming the first of three successive insurance commissioners to be convicted and serve time in federal prison, all for unrelated crimes.
He was convicted of extorting $80,000 from insurance companies in the late 1980s, in exchange for licenses to operate in Louisiana. Mr. Bernard pleaded guilty to one count of extortion and served time in a federal prison in Alabama.
That dark chapter followed a 16-year career as chief of the state insurance department. He was ousted from office in 1987, when he was defeated by Doug Green, who had pledged to clean up the reputation of the office, which he said had been tarnished by Mr. Bernard.
Green, like Bernard, was later sentenced to prison – a 25-year sentence, for his role in the Champion Insurance scandal. Prosecutors said that Champion illegally swapped more than $2 million in campaign contributions for state regulatory favors from Green.
Mr. Bernard tried to make a comeback, running for the insurance commissioner’s office again in 1991. Jim Brown won that race. Brown was also later sentenced to six months in federal prison, for lying to an FBI agent, a charge he vehemently denied.
A native of Schriever and graduate of Terrebonne High School, Mr. Bernard spent much of his life and career on the Westbank. He worked in the house moving, trucking and construction business before being elected.
Bernard also made an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in 1974. He also served in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a member of the Louisiana State Police early in his career.
He is survived by five children, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be Tuesday from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. at Westside Leitz-Eagan Funeral Home, 5101 Westbank Expressway in Marrero. A funeral Mass will be celebrated Wednesday at 11 a.m. Burial will be in Garden of Memories.