By Mike Robinson
AP Legal Affairs Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — Former Gov. George Ryan was convicted of racketeering, fraud and other counts Monday in a corruption scandal that ended his political career in 2003 even as he was winning international praise for commuting the sentences of everyone on Illinois’ death row.

Ryan, 72, sat stone-faced as the verdict was read and afterward vowed to appeal.

“I believe this decision today is not in accordance with the kind of public service that I provided to the people of Illinois over 40 years, and needless to say I am disappointed in the outcome,” Ryan said.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called the charges against Ryan serious and said his actions represented “a low water mark of public service.”

“For a brief moment, I’d just like to remind all of you out there that the charges involved were very serious and the corrupt conduct was very disturbing,” Fitzgerald said.

Robert Grant, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, said the verdict “underscores again that in this country and in this democracy, there is no one above the law.”

“I hope this case begins the end of political prostitution that seems to have been evident in the state of Illinois and begins a resurrection of honest government and services in this state that so many people have demanded,” Grant said.

Ryan’s lead attorney, former federal prosecutor Dan K. Webb, said the defense team would “begin working immediately on post-trial motions to try to get this verdict overturned.”

Webb zeroed in on U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer’s decision to bring in two alternates and restart deliberations after dismissing two jurors eight days into the original deliberations, calling those “unusual circumstances.”

The reconstituted jury deliberated for 10 days before revealing on the 11th day it had reached its decision, ending the state’s biggest political corruption trial in decades.

Ryan faces up to 20 years in prison for racketeering conspiracy charge alone, the most serious against him in the 22-count indictment. The jury found him guilty of all counts, including fraud, obstructing the Internal Revenue Service and lying to the FBI.

Co-defendant Larry Warner, a Chicago businessman and Ryan friend, was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, attempted extortion, illegally structuring bank withdrawals and money laundering.

Neither man took the stand during their six-month trial. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Jurors said no single factor tipped the balance in favor of conviction.

“It wasn’t a smoking gun,” said Kevin Rein of Glen Ellyn, a self-employed carpenter. He said “the government had a pretty good pile of evidence.”

Rein said he was persuaded by testimony from many former employees of the secretary of state’s office including Ryan’s imprisoned former top aide, Scott Fawell, that Ryan’s claim that nothing he did when he was secretary of state and later governor was illegal was bogus.

“They painted a different picture of what was going on,” he said.

The trial capped an eight-year investigation of corruption when Ryan, a Republican, was secretary of state for eight years in the 1990s and governor for four starting in 1999.

Ryan declined to run again after federal prosecutors charged that officials under him took bribes from unqualified truck drivers in exchange for drivers licenses when he was secretary of state. The allegations sent his standing in public opinion polls tumbling and ended a 30-year career in state politics.

Ryan was indicted in December 2003, about a year after he left office.

Prosecutors said Ryan steered big-money state contracts and leases, including a $25 million IBM computer deal, to Warner and his clients and three other political insiders.

They said that in return, Ryan was rewarded with free annual winter vacations in Jamaica as well as stays in Cancun and Palm Springs and valuables ranging from $145,000 in loans to his brother Tom’s floundering business to a free golf bag.

Prosecutors say Warner made $3 million from Ryan-era deals. Neither Ryan nor Warner took the stand during their trial, and both said nothing they did was illegal.

Eight days of jury deliberations over two weeks came to an abrupt halt after disclosure that two jurors apparently were untruthful on a court questionnaire when they said they had never been arrested.

Defense attorneys called for a mistrial, but deliberations resumed on March 29 after Pallmeyer, over defense protests, replaced the jurors with two alternates. The judge said, however, that she would still declare a mistrial if she concluded that the reconstituted deliberations were unfair.

In recent years as Ryan faced federal charges back home, he accepted speaking invitations across the country — and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize — for his January 2003 decision to commute all Illinois death sentences to life in prison after 13 men sentenced to death in the state were later found to have been wrongfully convicted and freed.

During the trial, Ryan’s attorneys pounded away on the theme that no one ever testified to seeing Ryan take a payoff.

“No witness testified that he ever gave George Ryan any financial or personal benefit for the purpose of influencing his official decisions,” said Webb, Ryan’s $750-an-hour attorney from the big Chicago firm Winston & Strawn, which represented Ryan for free at an estimated cost of $10 million.

Crucial in getting federal investigators to launch their investigation was a November 1994 expressway accident in which six children of the Rev. Scott and Janet Willis died when a heavy steel part fell from a semitrailer truck and struck their family’s van, causing an explosion.

The truck driver took the Fifth Amendment when asked in a civil lawsuit how he got his license. A trucking company official later said in a separate case that he believed the license was one of several he bought from a state official.

Prosecutors say thousands of dollars in payoff money from the licenses went into the Citizens for Ryan campaign fund. The fund has been convicted of racketeering along with campaign manager Fawell.

The Willises, who now live in Tennessee, received a $100 million civil lawsuit settlement. They were on hand for parts of the Ryan trial.

Seventy-nine former state officials, lobbyists, truck drivers and others have been charged in the government’s Operation Safe Road investigation. Before Ryan and Warner’s trial, 74 had been convicted and none acquitted.


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