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George Ryan Is Unrepentant

Former Illinois governor and convicted felon George Ryan appeared on Windy City Live recently and repeated several claims that bear vetting - and that the media should be prepared for in future interviews and his forthcoming memoirs. Let's take a look, in three parts.

Part 1.

1:41: "I really wasn't in prison. I was never behind bars. I was in a camp, I could've walked out any time. I could've gotten in a car and driven away. There were no guards."

While it's a bit of a stretch for Ryan to claim he wasn't in prison - it's called the Oxford federal prison camp - it is true that Oxford is what is known in the business as a Club Fed.

From a 2007 Tribune report:

The prison camp has no cellblocks, provides a track for walking and offers classes in culinary arts and college correspondence courses, according to federal officials, ex-inmates and visitors.

And come next spring, when people from his home state flock by the thousands to their seasonal cabins, Ryan could be planting flowers on a landscaping crew sprucing up the grounds of the wooded camp.

"It's like a hotel in there," said Ken Driscoll, an Oxford businessman who has toured the facility several times. "It's clean and comfortable and quite quiet."

2:10: "It was just a total waste of time, frankly."

2:55: "They oughta have some education programs."

Well, apparently they offer GED courses because Ryan turned down entreaties to teach one. "I'm not a teacher . . . You have to have some training. I've never had training as a teacher."

4:10: What did you learn? "I learned that it was kind of a waste of time . . . "

5:15: What has to change about Illinois' culture of corruption? "The people elect their public officials and they have to be a little more selective and make them accountable . . . "

Like not electing someone with a record of hinkiness dating back decades?

5:46: Ryan went to prison, then Blago. "And maybe Quinn's going, I don't know." The crowd goes "Oooooh."

6:23: Do you think you were wrongfully imprisoned? "Well look, it's over, let's not talk about the past . . . "

6:59: Why should anyone care about your upcoming memoir? "I can't tell you why. I don't know why they should care."

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Part 2.

:18: "I had nothing absolutely to do with the death of those six children . . . at the time they went through it, we put them in our daily prayers."

While assigning direct blame is tricky, surely Ryan had something to do with the death of the Willis children. As recounted by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

On Nov. 8, 1994, Scott and Janet and their six youngest children were driving through Milwaukee toward a birthday party in Watertown.

Somewhere ahead of them was Ricardo Guzman, who had paid a bribe to obtain a commercial diver's license in Illinois. Guzman did not speak English and could not understand the other truckers who were warning him that a piece of his rig - a 30-pound bracket holding the truck's mudflap in place - had broken loose.

The Willises' minivan ran over the bracket on I-94, south of W. Layton Ave. The bracket punctured the gas tank and dragged like a matchstick over the surface of the road. The spray of sparks ignited the gasoline and the van exploded in flames . . . All six children had burned to death.

The tragedy became the public face of the licenses-for-bribes scandal that poured money into Ryan's campaign coffers.

Also, I highly doubt the Ryans ever put the Willises in their daily prayers. As recounted by Tom Roeser:

If there was ever any lingering regret for George Ryan's troubles, it was snuffed out early in his trial. When one session ended and the former governor was gathering his things into a briefcase, ready to depart, he was approached by the Rev. Duane Willis, the father of the six children who were burned to death after a car accident caused by a part falling off a truck driven by a illegal immigrant who got his commercial license by bribing one of Ryan's driving examiners. Rev. Willis, a gentleman, approached the defendant and asked Ryan to at least express remorse for his part in the accident. Ryan growled - as only he could - 'Why don't you get a life?'

:45: "We have reached out [to the Willises] to some degree, but not a whole lot."

But they're in your prayers!

"But you know, it's done and over with, and I think life's gotta go on."

1:01: But technically you did have something to do with it . . . "I had nothing to do with the license or the sale of the license . . ."

If by nothing you mean just depositing the money from the sale of licenses into your campaign account.

1:50: What's one thing you would change to fix the state's culture of corruption? "I really don't know."

2:10: As secretary of state, when these allegations were unfolding, did you have the power to launch an investigation? "I suppose I could have. But the accident happened in Wisconsin. Wisconsin didn't launch an investigation. This was an accident that happened in Wisconsin, it didn't happen in Illinois."

Ah, but there was an investigation - until Ryan's pal, Dean Bauer, his handpicked inspector general, quashed it.

From a 2001 Tribune article:

In pleading guilty to the one obstruction of justice count, Bauer admitted he suggested that a former secretary of his dispose of two incriminating documents, including one involving Bauer's thwarting of an investigation into a 1994 crash in Wisconsin that killed six children of a Chicago family.

That memo, written about a week after the crash, revealed that Bauer suspected that Ricardo Guzman, a truck driver who caused the fatal accident, had obtained his commercial driver's license illegally at the licensing facility in McCook.Yet he ordered an investigator not to pursue the case.

And the fact that the accident happened in Wisconsin is irrelevant to the circumstances surrounding the purchase of the Illinois license in Illinois.

2:50: "I never felt responsible for it."

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Part 3.

:38: You think Rod Blagojevich got a raw deal. "No question about it . . . Fourteen years in prison? For what?"

1:12: Don't you think Blagojevich's lengthy sentence had a lot to do with the fact that you had just gone to prison? "What's that got to do with it?"

Well, um, deterrence?

"It's been going on for a hundred years."

1:56: What's your biggest regret? If you had to do it again, what would you have done differently? "You know, you're all gonna go 'oooh, boo,' and everything; I don't know what I would have done differently. All the evidence against me was circumstantial."

That argument failed every appeal he filed. From AP in 2011:

A federal appeals court has upheld former Illinois Gov. George Ryan's corruption convictions.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected arguments from Ryan's attorneys that the charges should be overturned because prosecutors never proved he took a bribe.

It was the latest attempt by Ryan to get out of prison based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling curtailing "honest services" laws.

The appellate court accepted government arguments that Ryan's case clearly involved bribery and kickbacks, so the high court ruling didn't apply.

Last year, the U.S. District judge who presided over Ryan's 2006 trial, Rebecca Pallmeyer, upheld Ryan's corruption conviction, leading to the appeal.

Ryan has served about three years of his 6 1/2-year sentence on racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

The U.S. Supreme Court later refused to hear the case.

Back to Ryan: "I don't know what I would really do differently. I really can't think of what I would do . . . the United States attorney prior to Patrick Fitzgerald had started the investigation into this whole thing . . . and investigated me, and came back in and gave me a total complete exoneration, and a clean bill."

Patently not true. The investigation did start under Fitzgerald's predecessor, Scott Lassar, and Lassar infamously stated (to his regret) during the 1998 gubernatorial campaign that Ryan was not a target of that probe, but that doesn't come anywhere close to a total complete exoneration - or even an incomplete one.

"And then we got a new United States attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, who came in, and he was the guy who convicted me and went after me."

And the judge, appellate court and U.S. Supreme Court were all in on the conspiracy.

3:40: "What do you want me to explain? They never convicted me of receiving directly money from anybody . . . they didn't have one person in all the money in all the programs I was involved with that said, 'I gave Ryan a lot of money.'"

From the Tribune:

"In 2006, federal jurors convicted George Ryan on 18 felony corruption counts: racketeering, mail fraud, tax fraud, filing false tax returns, lying to FBI agents. Nine people, six of them children named Willis, lie dead because of the crime spree on Ryan's watch: When he was secretary of state, as many as 2,000 truckers bribed his employees to get driver's licenses. Some of that blood money flowed to his political fund - and some of those truckers caused crashes that killed those nine and injured dozens more. As U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had said when the ex-governor was indicted: 'Ryan is charged with betraying the citizens of Illinois for over a decade on state business, both large and small. ... Defendant Ryan sold his office.'"

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Ed Hammer is a retired police captain and author of the book One Hundred Percent Guilty. He can be reached through his website.

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Previously by Ed Hammer:
* George Ryan's Park Bench
* George Ryan's Dogs and Ponies
* George Ryan's Other Jailhouse Interview
* Bugging The Chicago School Board
* Cop vs. Teacher
* Signs of Change
* Pols vs. Teachers
* The Terre Haute Redemption
* Rahm's War On Teachers
* About Those Indicted Nurses
* Body Language Bingo: A Guide To Watching The Presidential Debates
* George Ryan's Day Of Independence
* The Ironic George Ryan.

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See also: Honoring A True Illinois Hero.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on August 14, 2014


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