Illinois ex-governor convicted

Jury finds Ryan guilty of corruption when he was secretary of state

April 18, 2006|By MATT O'CONNOR AND RUDOLPH BUSH | MATT O'CONNOR AND RUDOLPH BUSH,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

A federal jury convicted former Illinois Gov. George Ryan yesterday on all charges that as secretary of state he steered state business to cronies in return for vacations, gifts and other benefits for himself and his family.

Lobbyist Lawrence Warner, a close Ryan friend, was also found guilty on all charges against him.

On their 11th day of deliberations, the six-woman, six-man jury found Ryan, 72, guilty on 18 counts of racketeering, mail fraud, false statements and tax violations.

Warner, 67, was convicted on 12 counts of racketeering, mail fraud, extortion, money laundering and evading cash-reporting requirements.

The verdict came three weeks after U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer excused two jurors during deliberations, in the wake of Chicago Tribune reports that both had apparently concealed arrest records during jury selection in September.

Rejecting defense calls for a mistrial, Pallmeyer added two alternates in their place and ordered that deliberations restart from scratch March 29.

The initial eight-day deliberations had been marred by apparent infighting among jurors, prompting Pallmeyer at one point to instruct them to treat one another "with dignity and respect."

The same problems didn't appear to be taking place with the jury after the two alternates were added. The jury didn't send out any notes raising questions or problems in the final four days of deliberations.

The trial played out over five months. Prosecutors portrayed Ryan as a shameless, greedy politician at the center of a series of dirty deals that enriched Warner and other friends who kicked back gifts to Ryan and his family.

But the defense called the evidence woefully inadequate, arguing that not a single witness saw Ryan take money to influence his decisions and accusing key government witnesses of slanting their testimony to win leniency.

Neither Ryan nor Warner testified.

The charges against Ryan stemmed largely from his scandal-scarred tenure as secretary of state. But he was accused as governor of lying to FBI agents; arranging a lucrative make-work lobbying deal for a friend, lobbyist Arthur "Ron" Swanson; and leaking the selection of a state prison site to Swanson, who improperly profited on the tip.

Ryan also diverted state resources and staffers to half a dozen political campaigns, including his 1998 election as governor.

Prosecutors alleged that in 1995 Ryan helped arrange to be paid secretly by the ill-fated presidential campaign of former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican, funneled the money through a company operated by a trusted operative and passed on nearly $10,000 to four daughters.

The defense brought out that Ryan was given thousands of dollars in cash in annual Christmas gifts from employees to try to counter bank records showing Ryan withdrew only $6,700 cash in nearly a decade.

Prosecutors argued that the limited withdrawals were circumstantial evidence that Ryan's cash spending came from kickbacks on state contracts and leases.

Among the wide-ranging charges against Ryan, prosecutors alleged that as secretary of state he gutted the office's investigative arm in 1995 to stop its agents from looking into shady fundraising practices of his campaign apparatus.

One investigator testified that Dean Bauer, Ryan's handpicked inspector-general, refused to let him investigate a 1994 traffic accident outside Milwaukee in which six children of Duane and Janice Willis were killed.

The fiery crash occurred when a heavy piece of metal undercarriage fell from a truck and punctured the gas tank of the Willis van. The truck driver, Ricardo Guzman, had paid a bribe for his commercial driver's license in Illinois and could not understand warnings from other truckers, in English, that the piece was dangling dangerously from his rig.

Jurors heard limited details about the crash because Pallmeyer considered the issue too prejudicial for the defense.

Matt O'Connor and Rudolph Bush write for the Chicago Tribune.

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