Ill. ex-governor indicted on corruption charges

Ryan and family accused of racketeering and fraud

December 18, 2003|By P.J. Huffstutter | P.J. Huffstutter,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CHICAGO - A federal grand jury indicted former Illinois Gov. George Ryan yesterday on an extensive list of corruption charges, including taking money and gifts in exchange for granting government contracts.

The indictment, the result of a five-year racketeering investigation, is the latest chapter in a scandal that dogged Ryan's four years as governor and led him to end his political career.

Federal prosecutors allege that between 1990 and last year - when he served as secretary of state and governor - Ryan and his family took more than $167,000 worth of gifts, vacations, cash and other bribes.

In exchange for the payoffs, prosecutors said, Ryan doled out millions of dollars worth of state business and lucrative contracts to friends and associates. The 69-year-old Republican is also accused of giving associates insider information about impending deals and ignoring state employees' concerns and complaints about such matters.

The investigation uncovered "a disturbing violation of trust," U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said. "The state of Illinois was for sale to [Ryan's] family and friends. This was cronyism at its worst."

Ryan was charged with racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, making false statements to investigators, tax fraud and filing false tax returns. If convicted on all counts, he could face more than 90 years in prison.

Ryan's attorney, Dan Webb, issued a statement last night: "I am confident he will be exonerated and a jury will find him not guilty of all charges."

Federal prosecutors also are seeking $3.1 million in total forfeiture from Ryan and Chicago businessman Lawrence E. Warner, a close friend of Ryan's who also was indicted. Authorities allege that Warner profited from sweetheart deals and collected money from state vendors and landlords - some of which was funneled to Ryan.

Yesterday's charges come in stark contrast to Ryan's worldwide image as a leading critic of the death penalty. As governor, he put a moratorium on executions after learning that several death row inmates had been wrongly convicted. Before he left office in January, he moved more than 160 prisoners off Illinois' death row, commuting their sentences to life in prison.

Last month, lawmakers completed an overhaul of the state's capital punishment system to correct what many described as a flawed death-penalty process.

The corruption probe, which began while Ryan was secretary of state, first targeted bribes exchanged for granting driver's licenses to unqualified truck drivers. But the scope of the investigation expanded amid further allegations of extortion, bribery, money laundering and obstruction of justice, Fitzgerald said.

Ryan is the 66th person to be indicted in the investigation; so far, his campaign committee and 59 other people have been convicted - including the inspector general whose job it was to uncover improprieties in the secretary of state's office.

Ryan's former chief of staff, Scott Fawell, was convicted of racketeering and fraud in March. Witnesses at his trial testified that Fawell dismantled Ryan's inspector general's office and removed employees who complained to head off investigations into Ryan's fund raising.

There is a long history of questionable and criminal conduct carried out from inside the Illinois governor's mansion.

Richard Ogilvie, who was governor in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was accused often of ignoring corruption: While he was Cook County sheriff, one of his top aides was paid to serve occasionally as personal driver of mob boss Sam Giancana.

And Dan Walker, who served as governor from 1973 to 1977, was convicted of bank fraud and perjury after he left office. He served 18 months of a seven-year federal prison term.

But it was the recent racketeering scandal that led to a state ethics law that went into effect last week.

The law gives a new class of inspectors general subpoena powers and the mandate to investigate complaints within the offices of all statewide officials and the legislature.

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