Ryan convicted in corruption trial
Co-defendant Warner also guilty
By Matt O’Connor and Rudolph Bush
Tribune staff reporters
Published April 17, 2006, 3:03 PM CDT
A federal jury convicted former Gov. George Ryan today on all charges that as secretary of state he steered state business to cronies in return for vacations, gifts and other benefits for himself and his family.
Lobbyist Lawrence Warner, a close Ryan friend, was also found guilty on all charges against him in the historic trial.
On their 11th day of deliberations, the six-woman, six-man jury found Ryan, 72, guilty on 18 counts of racketeering, mail fraud, false statements and tax violations. Warner, 67, was convicted on 12 counts of racketeering, mail fraud, extortion, money laundering and evading cash-reporting requirements.
The racketeering conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
Meeting briefly with reporters in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse lobby after the verdict, Ryan said he would appeal.
"The decision today is not in accordance with the kind of public service I've given to the people of Illinois over 40 years," the Kankakee Republican said.
But at a separate news conference, FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant said he hoped today's verdict ends "political prostitution" in Illinois, "and begins the resurrection of honest government services in this state that so many people have demanded."
"In this country, in this democracy, no one is above the law,'' Grant said.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick Collins, lead prosecutor in the case against the former governor, said at the same news conference, "A lot of critics indicated that this trial took too long, that we put on too much evidence."
"But there was no smoking gun in this case," Collins said. "This case was tried witness by witness, piece of evidence by piece of evidence, and it was only by looking at the totality of the case that the true picture could be shown to this jury.
"And that was a picture of corruption of the highest levels of government."
As for Ryan's vow to appeal, Collins said, "We have confidence this verdict will stand."
Dan Webb, Ryan's lead attorney, said the defense team first would try to overturn the verdict, and if that fails there would be an appeal. He said grounds for overturning the verdict would be based on "unusual developments during jury deliberations."
"Much of that is under seal, although that seal will be lifted and you all can make your judgment yourself how unusual the developments have been during this jury deliberation," Webb said.
The verdict came three weeks after U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer excused two jurors during deliberations following Tribune stories that both apparently had concealed arrest records during jury selection in September. Rejecting defense calls for a mistrial, Pallmeyer added two alternates in their place and ordered that deliberations restart from scratch on March 29.
The initial eight-day deliberations had been plagued by apparent infighting among jurors, prompting Pallmeyer at one point to instruct them to treat one another "with dignity and respect."
The same problems didn't appear to be taking place with the jury after the two alternates were added. The jury didn't send out any notes raising questions or problems in the final days of deliberations.
Speaking with reporters after the verdict, juror Charles Svymbersky said the panelists delayed announcing their finding until after the holiday weekend because, "We had some things to settle at the very last minute and some people wanted to think about some things."
Another juror, Denise Peterson, praised jury forewoman Sonja Chambers.
"It's been very stressful for all of us, but she did such an amazing job," Peterson said. "She kept us all in hand and made sure we did our job, and we did, we did our job. It was a very long process, and she kept us right on task."
Asked what argument by the government persuaded them to convict, Peterson said: "You can't just take one. I have to take 10." For example, she cited the testimony by secretary of state employees.
The trial played out over 5½ months as prosecutors portrayed Ryan as a shameless, greedy politician at the center of a series of dirty deals that enriched Warner and other friends who kicked back gifts to Ryan and his family.
But the defense called the evidence woefully inadequate, arguing not a single witness saw Ryan take money to influence his decisions and assailing key government witnesses for slanting their testimony to win leniency.
Neither Ryan nor Warner testified.
The charges against Ryan largely stemmed from his scandal-scarred tenure as secretary of state. But he was accused as governor of lying to FBI agents, arranging a lucrative make-work lobbying deal for a friend, lobbyist Arthur "Ron" Swanson, and leaking the selection of a state prison site to Swanson, who improperly profited on the tip.
Ryan also diverted state resources and staffers to half a dozen political campaigns, including his 1998 election as governor.
Prosecutors alleged that in 1995 Ryan helped arrange to be paid secretly by former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm's ill-fated presidential campaign, funneled the money through a company operated by a trusted operative and passed on nearly $10,000 to four daughters.
The defense brought out that Ryan was given thousands of dollars in cash in annual Christmas gifts from employees to try to counter bank records showing Ryan withdrew only $6,700 cash in nearly a decade.
Prosecutors argued the limited withdrawals were circumstantial evidence that Ryan's cash spending came from kickbacks on state contracts and leases.
Among the wide-ranging charges against Ryan, prosecutors alleged as secretary of state he gutted the office's investigative arm in 1995 to stop its agents from looking into shady fundraising practices of his campaign apparatus.
One investigator testified that Dean Bauer, Ryan's handpicked inspector general, refused to let him investigate a 1994 crash outside Milwaukee in which six children of Duane and Janice Willis were killed.
The fiery accident occurred when a heavy piece of metal undercarriage fell from a truck and punctured the gas tank of the Willis van.
The truck driver, Ricardo Guzman, had paid a bribe for his commercial driver's license in Illinois and could not understand warnings from other truckers, in English, that the piece was dangling dangerously from his rig.
Jurors heard limited details about the crash because Pallmeyer considered the issue too prejudicial for the defense.
"We don't take joy in this verdict, to know the highest office in the state of Illinois was corrupted and people's lives were put at stake when the Secretary of State's office under the George Ryan administration was in operation," prosecutor Collins said.
Noting that prosecutors were "outmanned and outgunned" by Ryan's and Warner's well-funded, powerhouse defense teams, Collins added, "We do take enormous pride in digging up the facts, bringing the case to and bringing some justice to the people of the State of Illinois."
But Collins warned, "Unless and until the state, city and county learn there are victims of corruption, there are tangible consequences of corruption, (and) unless and until people who vote understand that there are important consequences in their public officials' acts of dishonesty, this system will not change."
Step one towards doing something about our problems in Illinois.