Monday, April 17, 2006

CHICAGO (AP) — Former Gov. George Ryan was convicted of racketeering and fraud yesterday in a corruption scandal that ended his political career in 2003.

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

He was convicted of steering state contracts and leases, including a $25 million IBM computer deal, to political insiders while he was Illinois secretary of state in the 1990s and then governor for one term. In return, he got winter vacations in Jamaica; stays in Cancun, Mexico, and Palm Springs, Calif.; and gifts ranging from a golf bag to $145,000 in loans to his brother’s floundering business.

“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,” he said.

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald called Ryan’s actions “a low watermark of public service,” and added, “If they keep stealing, we’ll keep chasing them.”

Ryan, a Republican, faces up to 20 years in prison for a racketeering conspiracy charge alone, the most serious charge 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’s friend, was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, attempted extortion, illegally structuring bank withdrawals and money laundering.

Prosecutors also want the two men to forfeit the $3 million they say Warner raked in through state business. The judge will rule on that request later.

Neither man took the stand during the six-month trial.

Ryan was the third former Illinois governor in the past three decades to be convicted of federal felonies. Otto Kerner was found guilty in a racing stock scandal; Dan Walker was convicted of corruption involving bank loans. Both men were Democrats.

“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,” said Robert Grant, the agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office.

Ryan’s sentencing was set for Aug. 4.

The corruption scandal that led to Ryan’s downfall began more than a decade ago with a much smaller focus: a federal investigation into a fiery van crash in Wisconsin that killed six children.

The 1994 crash exposed a scheme inside the Illinois secretary of state’s office in which unqualified truck drivers obtained licenses in return for bribes. Ryan was secretary of state at the time, and prosecutors later would argue that thousands of dollars in payoff money from the licenses went into a Ryan campaign fund.

The probe expanded over the next eight years into a wide-ranging corruption investigation that eventually reached Ryan in the governor’s office.

Seventy-nine former state officials, lobbyists, truck drivers and others have been charged since then. Before Ryan’s trial, 74 had been convicted, including Scott Fawell, Ryan’s longtime top aide.

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