George Ryan | scandals, trial, and conviction
Ryan's political career was marred by a scandal called "Operation Safe Road," which involved the illegal sale of government licenses, contracts and leases by state employees during his prior service as Secretary of State. In the wake of numerous convictions of his former aides, he chose not to run for reelection in 2002. 79 former state officials, lobbyists, and others were charged in the investigation, and at least 76 were convicted.
The corruption scandal leading to Ryan's downfall began more than a decade earlier during a federal investigation into a deadly crash in
Former deputy campaign manager
The investigation finally reached the former governor, and in December 2003, Ryan and lobbyist Lawrence Warner were named in a 22-count federal indictment. The charges included racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax fraud. The indictment alleged that Ryan steered several state contracts to Warner and other friends; disbursed campaign funds to relatives and to pay personal expenses; and obstructed justice by attempting to end the state investigation of the license-for-bribes scandal. He was charged with lying to investigators and accepting cash, gifts and loans in return for his official actions as governor. In late 2005, the case went to trial.
Fawell, under pressure from prosecutors, became a key witness against Ryan and Warner. He agreed to a plea deal that cut the prison time for himself and his fiancée, Andrea Coutretsis. Fawell was a controversial witness, not hiding his disdain for prosecutors from the witness stand. According to CBS Chicago political editor Mike Flannery, insiders claimed that Fawell had been "much like a son" to Ryan throughout their careers. At Ryan's trial, Fawell acknowledged that the prosecution had his "head in a vise", and that he found his cooperation with the government against Ryan "the most distasteful thing I've ever done". Nonetheless, he spent several days on the witness stand testifying against Ryan and Warner. Once a tough-talking political strategist, Fawell wept on the witness stand as he acknowledged that his motivation for testifying was to spare Coutretsis a long prison sentence for her role in the conspiracy. The jury was twice sent out of the courtroom so that he could wipe tears from his eyes and regain his composure.
Ryan's daughters and a son-in-law, Michael Fairman, were implicated by testimony during the trial. Stipulations agreed upon by the defense and prosecution and submitted to the court included admissions that all five of Ryan's daughters received illegal payments from the Ryan campaign. In addition to Lynda Fairman, who received funds beyond those her husband Michael testified he had received, the stipulations included admissions from the rest of Ryan's daughters that they did little or no work in return for the payments. In addition, Fawell testified that Ryan's mother's housekeeper was illegally paid from campaign funds, and that Ryan's adopted sister, Nancy Ferguson, also received campaign funds without performing campaign work. The prosecution took nearly four months to present their case, as a parade of other witnesses (including Juliano) followed Fawell.
On April 17, 2006, the
On September 6, 2006, Ryan was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. He was ordered to go to prison on January 4, 2007, but the appellate court granted an appeal bond, allowing him to remain free pending the outcome of the appeal. His conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit on August 21, 2007, and review by the entire Seventh Circuit was denied on October 25, 2007. The Seventh Circuit then rejected Ryan's bid to remain free while he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case; the opinion called the evidence of Ryan's guilt "overwhelming". The Supreme Court rejected an extension of his bail, and Ryan reported to the
Ryan's defense was provided
After his conviction Ryan's annual $197,037 state pension was suspended under state law. Ryan's attorneys litigated the pension matter all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which ruled on February 19, 2010, that state law "plainly mandates that none of the benefits provided for under the system shall be paid to Ryan". Ryan was paid $635,000 in pension benefits during the three years between his retirement and his political corruption conviction, plus a refund of the $235,500 in personal contributions he made during his 30 years in public office.
In 2010, Ryan requested early release, partly because his wife had terminal cancer and was given only six months to live, and partly on the grounds that some of his convictions should be vacated in light of a Supreme Court ruling that was alleged to have affected their legitimacy. On December 21, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge
On January 5, 2011, Ryan was taken from his prison cell in