- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — Former Illinois Republican Gov. George Ryan was relaxed and smiling yesterday in federal court as attorneys began selecting a jury for his racketeering trial.

Only three of 300 potential jurors were interviewed by noon, but U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said she hoped to have the 12-member jury and six alternates selected to begin opening arguments Thursday.

Mr. Ryan, who won accolades from capital-punishment critics by clearing the state’s death row before he left office in 2003, faces 22 charges of racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, lying to the FBI and tax fraud.

Federal prosecutors have accused the Ryan administration of doling out big-money state contracts and leases to political insiders, resulting in charges being brought against 79 persons, including many state employees.

Mr. Ryan, 71, greeted reporters outside the courthouse but did not speak as he made his way through security yesterday.

“One thing I’m confident of is, at the end of the day, after the jury’s heard all of the evidence, they will find and see that George Ryan is not guilty of all charges in this indictment,” defense lawyer Dan Webb said.

Mr. Webb and prosecutors quizzed potential jurors yesterday, including a retiree who said she had heard Mr. Ryan had “problems” in office, but promised to be fair.

Another juror wrote: “I have a hard time with politicians who use their powers to give or receive favors,” but said she could be fair to Mr. Ryan.

The indictment charges that Mr. Ryan gave lobbyist and co-defendant Larry Warner near-total power to ensure that leases and contracts in the secretary of state’s office went to Mr. Warner’s clients. Millions of dollars were awarded this way, prosecutors said. Mr. Ryan and Mr. Warner have denied any wrongdoing.

The charges grew out of the federal government’s Operation Safe Road, which initially focused on bribes exchanged for driver’s licenses but over seven years expanded into a full-blown investigation of political corruption when Mr. Ryan was secretary of state and later governor.

Seventy-three of the 79 persons charged have been convicted, including Scott Fawell, Mr. Ryan’s former chief of staff. None have been acquitted.

Fawell is serving a 6-year sentence and was scheduled to testify first against Mr. Ryan. Prosecutors said he could be on the stand for as long as three weeks.

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