By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 7, 2006
CHICAGO, Sept. 6 -- Former governor George H. Ryan, who won global attention for emptying Illinois's death row, was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison Wednesday for a decade of tawdry corruption and official lies that he minimized to the end.
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer rejected Ryan's request for leniency, saying that he violated the public trust through sweetheart deals and political favoritism. If Ryan thinks the allegations were "relatively minor or insignificant," Pallmeyer said, "I would suggest they are anything but."
The judge said she could not be sure that the 72-year-old defendant, who has diabetes, high cholesterol and Crohn's disease, would survive prison. "This gives me the least pleasure I've ever experienced," she told a courtroom audience that included Ryan's wife and six children.
Given a chance to speak, Ryan, a former Kankakee pharmacist who became the state's most powerful Republican, acknowledged that he disappointed the people of Illinois, but he insisted that in 36 years in public life he "always tried to be steadfast."
"I simply didn't do enough," Ryan said, speaking strongly in remarks more like a political concession speech than a mea culpa. "I should have been more vigilant. I should have been more watchful. I should have been a lot of things, I guess."
Ryan stands convicted of 16 counts of racketeering conspiracy, fraud and lying under oath. He plans to appeal.
The conviction of Ryan is the most dramatic success yet for U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, imported from New York in 2001 to lead an anti-corruption drive that now stretches from Chicago to the state capitol in Springfield.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins -- alleging "a sense of entitlement, even arrogance," among corrupt Illinois officials -- urged Pallmeyer to challenge that culture by changing the cost-benefit calculus of would-be lawbreakers.
Among the dozens of practitioners and beneficiaries of official corruption recently found guilty are Mayor Richard M. Daley's patronage chief, Robert Sorich, and aides well known to the mayor. Many are now telling agents what they know as investigators dig deeper -- and climb higher.
Ryan, who served two terms as secretary of state and one as governor, is best known for his 2003 decision to impose a moratorium on the death penalty and to commute the capital sentences of 167 inmates. A former believer in capital punishment, he said he feared innocents would die.
Death penalty opponents celebrated, some pushing for him to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. But unfolding at the same time was a lengthy federal investigation into Ryan's habit of favoring friends with secret deals, using state money for his campaigns and steering funds from other Republican campaigns to his daughters.
When questioned by federal agents, the jury said, Ryan repeatedly lied about what he had done.
Among Ryan's crimes was steering state business and office leases to lobbyist and businessman Larry Warner, sentenced Wednesday by Pallmeyer to 41 months in prison. Ryan also took free vacations in Jamaica, writing rent checks to his politically connected host, only to be reimbursed by him in cash.
Witnesses said Ryan often flashed rolls of $100 bills. Yet federal investigators discovered that, in the course of a decade, Ryan withdrew only $6,700 in cash from his bank.
Today, Ryan is too poor to pay his prominent defense attorneys, and he is expected to lose his state pension. Pallmeyer ordered him to pay more than $600,000 in restitution for overpriced leases.