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Former Illinois Governor Indicted on Federal Charges

Former Illinois governor and Nobel Peace Prize nominee George Ryan was indicted December 17, 2003, on federal charges of racketeering, mail and tax fraud, and lying to investigators.

Federal prosecutors allege that Ryan and his political bedfellows treated state employees and the treasury as personal property. As of December 2003, 66 people have been indicted and 59 convicted.

During Ryan's term as secretary of state from 1991 to 1999, prosecutors contend that Ryan negotiated side deals on public contracts to get a cut of the profits, improperly accepted free vacations, and divulged confidential information to friends who used it for personal gain. The value of Ryan's illicit dealings purportedly totaled $167,000. Ryan also allegedly steered more than $300,000 in loans, gifts and services to a friend, hid the transactions, and then lied about them to investigators.

"The state of Illinois was for sale," said U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald. "It was cronyism. People were given inside information, and they acted on it....He knew he was breaking the law."

Ryan's indictment came as no surprise to those familiar with the five-year investigation. "Everybody was working under the assumption that eventually it was coming down the pikeso it's business as usual in the Capitol," said Richard Kling, a law professor at Chicago Kent College of Law.

Ryan, a former death penalty advocate, gained international notoriety in January 2003 when in one of his last acts as governor he commuted the death sentences of 167 condemned Illinois prisoners. [See PLN, July 2003, pp. 24, 25.] This brazen act of conscience earned Ryan a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2002.

Ryan was not available for comment on the indictment, but when charges were filed against his campaign and his chief of staff, Scott Falwell, in 2002, Ryan said: "As everyone knows, there are two sides to every story, two sides to allegations leveled by individuals claiming to recollect conversations and actions from several years ago. I will only repeat what I have said many times before: My conscience is clear, and, in every public office I have held, I have respected the public trust."


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