Archive for Thursday, September 7, 2006

Former Illinois governor sentenced to six years for graft

September 7, 2006

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— Former Gov. George Ryan, who was acclaimed by capital punishment foes for suspending executions in Illinois and emptying out death row, was sentenced Wednesday to 6 1/2 years behind bars in the corruption scandal that ruined his political career.

"When they elected me as the governor of this state, they expected better, and I let 'em down and for that I apologize," the 72-year-old Republican said in court before hearing his sentence.

Federal prosecutors had asked for eight to 10 years in prison. De-fense attorneys argued that even 2 1/2 years would deprive Ryan of the last healthy years of his life.

"Government leaders have an obligation to stand as the example. Mr. Ryan failed to meet that standard," U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer said.

Ryan and about a dozen members of his family stood stoically as Pallmeyer imposed the sentence. He said "involuntary separation" from his wife of 50 years, Lura Lynn, would be "excruciating."

"The jury's verdict speaks for itself in showing that I simply didn't do enough - should have been more vigilant, should have been more watchful, should have been a lot of things, I guess," Ryan said.

The former governor was ordered to report to prison Jan. 4, but his attorneys are trying to keep him free on bond pending appeal - a matter that Pallmeyer will decide on later.

Ryan was convicted in April of racketeering conspiracy, fraud and other offenses for taking payoffs from political insiders in exchange for state business while he was Illinois secretary of state from 1991 to 1999 and governor for four years after that. The verdict capped Illinois' biggest political corruption trial in decades.

Prosecutors said Ryan doled out big-money contracts and leases to his longtime friend, businessman-lobbyist Larry Warner, and other insiders and received such things as Caribbean vacations and a golf bag in return. Ryan also used state money and state workers for his campaigns, the government alleged.

Ryan and Warner, 67, have maintained that nothing they did in connection with leases and contracts was illegal. During the trial, Ryan's attorneys asserted that no one ever testified to seeing their client take a payoff.

Defense attorneys pleaded for mercy, citing Ryan's advanced age, his health problems - he is plagued by high cholesterol and the intestinal illnesses Crohn's disease, diverticulitis - and the humiliation he has already suffered.

The scandal that led to Ryan's downfall began more than a decade ago with a fiery van crash in Wisconsin that killed six children. The 1994 wreck exposed a scheme inside the Illinois secretary of state's office in which truck drivers obtained licenses for bribes.

The probe expanded to other corruption under Ryan. Seventy-nine former state officials, lobbyists, truck drivers and others have been charged. Seventy-five have been convicted, including Ryan's longtime top aide, Scott Fawell, a star witness at Ryan's trial.

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