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Ten Years Ago Today: 100% Guilty

April 17, 2006 - 10 years ago today - is a day of historical significance to Illinois citizens. It is a day that marks the victorious battle for the righteous over the perpetual culture of corruption. It is the day that George Ryan, former governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, was convicted by a federal jury on 18 counts of corruption spanning from 1992 to 2002.

I remember the day very well. I would have been in federal court to hear the announcement of the verdict were it not that I was a new assistant professor teaching criminal justice at Northwestern College and attending a mandatory faculty meeting. My boss let me know that they were about to announce a verdict on the radio. I excused myself, and while walking back to my office another department dean reprimanded me for not being in the meeting. I mumbled something back to her about this being an important part of my life. I bet she neither cared nor understood.

The conviction of Ryan is as significant to me as others may find Victory Day when the Japanese surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur, or as the day of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade is significant to others.

Russ Sonneveld and I were investigators responsible for rooting out corruption in the Illinois Secretary of State's Office. From 1992 through 1995 we discovered a pattern of corruption where stolen state revenue and bribe money from commercial driver's license applicants were being distributed to the Citizens for Ryan campaign fund. Our investigations were routinely halted by Dean Bauer, Ryan's inspector general - and confidante.

It all came to a head when the six Willis children became victims of a traffic fatality on November 7, 1994. The truck driver who caused the accident illegally obtained his driver's license from the Secretary of State's driver's license bureau. The employee who issued it ultimately admitted to the FBI she contributed $80,000 in bribes to Ryan's campaign fund.

The following January, Sonneveld and I met with an assistant US attorney to report the bribery and cover-ups. Over a period of the next six months, in a series of acts of obstruction of justice, Ryan, Bauer and chief of staff Scott Fawell conspired to dissolve the Department of Inspector General and rid the office of the investigators who were causing them "trouble." Sonneveld was fired. I was demoted and reassigned back to the Illinois Secretary of State police.

On the morning of April 20, 2006, the headline of my local paper, the Southtown, read "100% GUILTY." I had already started writing a book about my experiences that led to the seven-month trial of George Ryan. When I saw the headline in bold black print, I decided it would be my book's title. That day's edition had four full pages of coverage and an editorial dedicated to the George Ryan scandal.

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Columnist Phil Kadner said, "He had it coming."

Rob Grant, the Chicago FBI Special Agent in Charge calling Ryan's corruption "political prostitution."

Tammy Raynor, a low-level driver's license facility employee who was a well-known whistleblower, said, "I didn't know it then, but Ryan had brought in Bauer to cover up the corruption."

Columnist Kristen McQueary, now on the Chicago Tribune's editorial board, was sympathetic to Ryan, almost justifying his business-as-usual defense. The case, she said, was "not that tidy."

Ryan's hometown paper, the Kankakee Daily Journal, published a special edition about the verdict in which a Kankakee resident and Salvation Army Thrift Store worker said, "Just because of who he was, people were intimidated. This was a long time coming."

It certainly was. Eleven years had passed since the Willis children were killed. Eleven years had passed since Sonneveld and I visited with an assistant U.S. attorney for the first time. A day did not go by when the investigation was not on my mind.

Often people, including fellow law-enforcement officers, would say things to me like, "You sure hold a grudge for a long time."

Once, when I was attending a dinner party and describing the case to another guest, the hostess piped in demanding, "No discussing politics."

"It's not politics," I replied in frustration, "it is a criminal investigation."

No one felt the pain more than Scott and Janet Willis, the parents of the six children who died as a result of the accident in November 1994. The Southtown's article about them covered half a page.

"Our main concern is that we don't rejoice in the downfall of someone else, but rejoice in the justice that's being done," Scott Willis said.

Ryan eventually was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in a federal prison. He began serving his time in Oxford, Wisconsin, one day shy of 13 years after the six Willis children were killed in Milwaukee.

Scott Willis wrote the forward of my book One Hundred Percent Guilty. "Putting an unsafe and illegal driver at the wheel of a semi-truck in exchange for political contribution is criminal. To quash the incendiary evidence of corruption is unconscionable."

Assistant U.S. attorney Patrick Collins, who prosecuted the case, once asked, "Is the corruption systemic, or is it in anomaly? I really don't know the answer." He finally found out.

In all, there were 80 convictions. Then there were individuals who turned state's evidence, turned a blind eye to corruption, walked away unharmed.

My book's title is not only about all 18 counts of Ryan's conviction; it's also about our collective complacency. To rid our political system of corruption, we must dig deep into our own consciences and end our daily tolerance of all corruption, big or small, business as usual or not.

Political corruption is a social disease that eats away at our society as much as any other criminal activity. It feeds off the participation of some and the tolerance of others. The George Ryan scandal stands out as the example of its tragic consequences. We need to be reminded of our past so we do our best not to repeat these tragedies.

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Ed Hammer will be the guest speaker at the April meeting on Wednesday of the Metro Retired State Employees Association, talking about his book One Hundred Percent Guilty and the 10th Anniversary of George Ryan's conviction. The event will be held at 222 North LaSalle Street in Chicago, Room 710. Call 773-275-1464 to RSVP.

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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.
* George Ryan Is Unrepentant.
* Must Like Puppies.
* ILGov2014: The George Ryan Connection.
* Exclusive: Trump Puts Lion Killer On VP Short List.
* The Statues Of Kankakee.
* Now Even Statues Of Dirty Illinois Governors Want Your Money.
* Ex-Con George Ryan To Personally Appeal For Statue.
* Kankakee Statues Saga Takes Mayberryesque Turn.

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See also: Honoring A True Illinois Hero.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on April 17, 2016


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