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George Ryan

In office
January 11, 1999 – January 13, 2003
Lieutenant Corinne Wood
Preceded by Jim Edgar
Succeeded by Rod Blagojevich

In office
January 14, 1991 – January 11, 1999
Governor Jim Edgar
Preceded by Jim Edgar
Succeeded by Jesse White

In office
Governor James R. Thompson
Preceded by Dave O'Neal
Succeeded by Bob Kustra

Born February 24, 1934 (1934-02-24) (age 76)
Maquoketa, Iowa
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Lura Lynn Ryan
Residence Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute
Profession Pharmacist and businessman

George Homer Ryan (born February 24, 1934, in Maquoketa, Iowa) was the 39th Governor of the U.S. state of Illinois from 1999 until 2003. He was a member of the Republican Party. Although Ryan became nationally known when he "raised the national debate on capital punishment" by issuing a moratorium on executions in 2000,[1] his 35-year political career was tarnished by scandal. Investigations into widespread corruption during his administration led to his retirement from politics in 2003 and federal corruption convictions in 2006. Ryan entered federal prison on November 7, 2007, to begin serving a sentence of six years and six months. As of December 10, 2008, he is housed at the satellite prison camp adjacent to the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana.


Early life

Ryan grew up in Kankakee County, Illinois. After serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, he worked for his father's two drugstores.[2] He attended Ferris State College of Pharmacy (now Ferris State University) in Big Rapids, Michigan. Eventually, he built his father's pair of pharmacies into a successful family-run chain which was sold in 1990.[2][3]

Ryan married his high school sweetheart, Lura Lynn Ryan (née Lowe), and they have five daughters (including a set of triplets)[3] – Julie, Joanne, Jeanette, Lynda and Nancy[4][5] – and one son, "Homer" (George Homer Ryan, Jr.)[6][7][8] Ryan's brother Thomas "Tom" Ryan has also been a significant political figure in Kankakee County.[2] In addition, Ryan's sister Kathleen Dean's former son-in-law Bruce Clark, is Kankakee County Clerk.[9]

Ryan is a member of the Republican Party. He began his political career by serving on the Kankakee County Board from 1968 to 1973. He was then elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served from 1973 to 1983, including two terms as Minority Leader and one term as Speaker. He then spent 20 years in statewide office, as Lieutenant Governor under Governor James R. Thompson (1983-1991), Secretary of State from 1991 to 1999, and as Governor from 1999 to 2003.

Term as Governor

Ryan was elected Governor in 1998, defeating his opponent, Glenn Poshard, by a 51%–47% margin. Ryan's running mate was Corinne Wood.

One of Ryan's pet projects as governor was an extensive repair of the Illinois Highway System called "Illinois FIRST." FIRST was an acronym for "Fund for Infrastructure, Roads, Schools, and Transit." Signed into law in May 1999, the law created a $6.3 billion package for use in school and transportation projects. With various matching funds programs, Illinois FIRST provided $2.2 billion for schools, $4.1 billion for public transportation, another $4.1 billion for roads, and $1.6 billion for other projects.

He also improved Illinois's technology infrastructure, creating one of the first cabinet-level Offices of Technology in the country and bringing up Illinois's technology ranking in a national magazine from 48th out of the 50 states when he took office to 1st just two years later.

Ryan committed record funding to education, including 51% of all new state revenues during his time in office, in addition to the billions spent through Illinois FIRST that built and improved schools and education infrastructure.

In 1999, Ryan sparked controversy by becoming the first sitting U.S. Governor to meet with Cuban President Fidel Castro. Ryan's visit led to a $1 million donation of humanitarian aid, but drew criticism from anti-Castro groups.[10]

Capital punishment

Ryan helped to renew the national debate on capital punishment when, as governor, he declared a moratorium on his state's death penalty in 2000.[11] "We have now freed more people than we have put to death under our system," he said. "There is a flaw in the system, without question, and it needs to be studied."[12] At the time, Illinois had executed 12 people since the reinstitution of the death penalty in 1977, with one execution, that of [Ripper Crew] member Andrew Kokoraleis occurring early during Ryan's term. Ryan refused to meet with religious leaders and others regarding "a stay of execution" in light of the impending 'moratorium' and other facts relative to the 'flawed' capital punishment system in Illinois; in fact, Ryan had been forced to release 13 people based on new evidence.[citation needed] Ryan called for a commission to study the issue, while noting, "I still believe the death penalty is a proper response to heinous crimes... But I believe that it has to be where we don't put innocent people to death."[13]

The issue had garnered the attention of the public when a death row inmate, Anthony Porter, who had spent 15 years on death row, was within two days of being executed when his lawyers won a stay on the grounds that he may have been mentally retarded. He was ultimately exonerated with the help of a group of student journalists at Northwestern University who had uncovered evidence that was used to prove his innocence. In 1999 Porter was released, charges were subsequently dropped, and another person, Alstory Simon, confessed and pleaded guilty to the crime Porter had been erroneously convicted of.

Ultimately, on January 11, 2003, just two days before leaving office, Ryan commuted (to "life" terms) the sentences of everyone on or waiting to be sent to Illinois' death row – a total of 167 convicts – due to his belief that the death penalty could not be administered fairly. He also pardoned four inmates, Aaron Patterson, Madison Hobley and Leroy Orange (who were released), and Stanley Howard. However, Patterson is currently serving 30 years in prison after being arrested for drug trafficking he committed after his release from death row. Howard remains in prison for kidnapping and three rapes he committed before his arrest for murder.

These were four of ten death row inmates known as the "Death Row 10," due to widely reported claims that the confessions that they had given in their respective cases had been coerced through police torture. Ryan is not the first state governor to have granted blanket commutations to death row inmates during his final days in office. Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller also commuted the sentence of every death row inmate in that state as he left office after losing his 1970 bid for a third two-year term.

Ryan won praise from death penalty opponents, and was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. Many conservatives, though, were opposed to the decision, and some questioned the motives behind the commutations, which came as a federal corruption investigation closed in on the governor and his closest political allies (see below). Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan called Ryan "pathetic", and suggested that the governor was attempting to save his public image in hopes of avoiding prison himself.[14]

Scandals, trial, and conviction

Ryan's political career was marred by a scandal involving the illegal sale of government licenses, contracts and leases by state employees during his prior service as Secretary of State; in the wake of numerous convictions of former aides, he chose not to run for reelection in 2002. The scandals are widely believed to have hurt Republicans' chances for re-winning Illinois' governorship. Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan lost to U.S. Representative Rod Blagojevich in the 2002 election, ending 25 years of Republican governorships. All told, seventy-nine former state officials, lobbyists, and others have been since charged in the investigation, and at least 76 have been convicted.

The corruption scandal that led to Ryan's downfall began over a decade earlier as a federal investigation into a deadly crash in Wisconsin that killed six children of Rev. Duane "Scott" Willis and his wife, Janet . The investigation revealed a scheme inside Ryan's secretary of state's office in which unqualified truck drivers obtained licenses through bribes. As the AP wrote: "The probe expanded over the next eight years into a wide-ranging corruption investigation that eventually reached Ryan in the governor's office."

In March 2003, Scott Fawell, Ryan's former chief of staff and campaign manager, was convicted along with Ryan's campaign fund on federal charges of racketeering and fraud. Former deputy campaign manager Richard Juliano pled guilty to related charges and testified against Fawell at trial. The investigation finally reached the former governor, and in December 2003, Ryan and lobbyist Lawrence Warner were named in a 22-count federal indictment. The charges included racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax fraud. The indictment alleged that Ryan steered several state contracts to Warner and other friends; disbursed campaign funds to relatives and to pay personal expenses; and obstructed justice by attempting to end the state investigation of the license-for-bribes scandal. He was charged with lying to investigators and accepting cash, gifts and loans in return for his official actions as governor. In late 2005, the case went to trial.

Fawell, under pressure from prosecutors, became a key witness against Ryan and Warner. He agreed to a plea deal that cut the prison time for himself and his fiancee, Andrea Coutretsis. Fawell was a controversial witness, not hiding his disdain for prosecutors from the witness stand. According to CBS Chicago political editor Mike Flannery, insiders claimed that Fawell had been "much like a son" to the former governor throughout their careers. At Ryan's trial, Fawell acknowledged that the prosecution had his "head in a vise", and that he found his cooperation with the government against Ryan "the most distasteful thing I've ever done".[15] Nonetheless, he spent several days on the witness stand testifying against Ryan and Warner. Fawell, once a tough-talking political strategist, wept on the witness stand as he acknowledged that his motivation for testifying was to spare Coutretsis a long prison sentence for her role in the conspiracy. The jury was twice sent out of the courtroom so that Fawell could wipe tears from his eyes and regain his composure. Ryan's daughters and a son-in-law, Michael Fairman, were implicated by testimony during the trial. Stipulations agreed upon by the defense and prosecution and submitted to the court included admissions that all five of Ryan's daughters received illegal payments from the Ryan campaign fund. In addition to Lynda Fairman, who received funds herself beyond those her husband Michael testified he had received, the stipulations also included admissions from the rest of Ryan's daughters that they did little or no work in return for payments from their father's campaign funds.[16][17] In addition, Fawell testified that Ryan's mother's housekeeper was illegally paid from campaign funds, and that Ryan's adopted sister, Nancy Ferguson, also received campaign funds without performing campaign work.[4][16] The prosecution took nearly four months to present their case, as a parade of other witnesses (including Juliano) followed Fawell. Two of the original jurors were dismissed after it was revealed they had lied on their juror questionnaires. They falsely claimed having never faced criminal charges, causing the jury to be impaneled with alternate jurors.

On April 17, 2006, the jury found Ryan and Warner guilty on all counts.[18] However, when ruling on post-trial motions, the judge dismissed two counts of the convictions against Ryan for lack of proof.[19] Ryan said that he would appeal the verdict, largely due to the issues with the jury.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor, noted: "Mr. Ryan steered contracts worth millions of dollars to friends and took payments and vacations in return. When he was a sitting governor, he lied to the F.B.I. about this conduct and then he went out and did it again." He charged that one of the most egregious aspects of the corruption was Ryan's action after learning that bribes were being paid for licenses. Instead of ending the practice he tried to end the investigation that had uncovered it, Fitzgerald said, calling the moment "a low-water mark for public service."[20] Ryan became the third Illinois governor since 1968 to be convicted of white-collar crimes, following Dan Walker and Otto Kerner, Jr..

In his monthly news summary on April 30, 2006, columnist Bill Flick of the Bloomington, Illinois newspaper The Pantagraph remarked, "Instead of selling license plates, [Ryan] gets to make them."

On September 6, 2006, he was sentenced to serve six and a half years in prison.[21] Ryan was ordered to go to prison on January 4, 2007, but the appellate court granted an appeal bond, allowing him to remain free pending the outcome of the appeal.[22] His conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit on August 21, 2007,[23] and review by the entire Seventh Circuit was denied on October 25, 2007.[24] The Seventh Circuit then rejected Ryan's bid to remain free while he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case; the opinion[25] called the evidence of Ryan's guilt "overwhelming."[26] The Supreme Court rejected an extension of his bail, and Ryan reported to the Federal Prison Camp in Oxford, Wisconsin, on November 7, 2007.[27][28] He was transferred on February 29, 2008, to a medium security facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, after Oxford changed its level of medical care and stopped housing inmates over 70 years old.[29] He is listed as Federal Inmate Number 16627-424, and is scheduled for release on July 4, 2013.[30]

Ryan's defense has been provided pro bono by Winston & Strawn, a law firm managed by former governor Jim Thompson. The defense cost the firm $10 million through mid-November 2005.[31] Estimates of the cost to the firm as of September, 2006, ranged as high as $20 million. Ryan served as Thompson's lieutenant governor from 1983 to 1991. After the United States Supreme Court declined to hear Ryan's appeal, Thompson indicated that he would ask then President George W. Bush to commute Ryan's sentence to time served.[32] United States Senator Dick Durbin wrote a letter to Bush dated December 1, 2008, asking him to commute Ryan's sentence, citing Ryan's age and his wife's frail health, saying, "This action would not pardon him of his crimes or remove the record of his conviction, but it would allow him to return to his wife and family for their remaining years."[33] Bush did not pardon Ryan before the end of his term on January 20, 2009.

Electoral history

  • 1998 - Illinois Governor
    • George Ryan (R) 51%
    • Glenn Poshard (D) 47.5%
    • Lawrence Redmond (Reform) 1.5%
  • 1994 - Illinois Secretary of State
  • 1990 - Illinois Secretary of State
    • George Ryan (R) 53.5%
    • Jerry Cosentino (D) 46.5%


  1. ^ "'Blanket commutation' empties Illinois death row". January 13, 2003. 
  2. ^ a b c The redemption of Gov. Ryan Salon magazine online, January 16, 2003, accessed September 6, 2006.
  3. ^ a b Biography at Stop Capital Punishment siteaccessed September 6, 2006.
  4. ^ a b Fawell: Ryan's family, friends got cash Chicago Sun-Times, October 7, 2005, accessed September 6, 2006.
  5. ^ Family Members on Payroll Chicago Tribune, January 19, 2006, accessed September 6, 2006.
  6. ^ Cast of characters stars in drama made in Illinois Chicago Tribune, September 29, 2005, accessed September 6, 2006.
  7. ^ Ryan Guilty Chicago Sun-Times, April 17, 2006, accessed September 6, 2006.
  8. ^ Michael Sneed's lunch with George Ryan Chicago Sun-Times, April 18, 2006, accessed September 6, 2006.
  9. ^ Lobbyist's Ex-Girlfriend Tells of Ryan Junkets Chicago Sun-Times, January 10, 2006, accessed September 6, 2006.
  10. ^ US governor on Cuba mission BBC News, October 24, 1999.
  11. ^ "No Executions in Illinois Until System Is Repaired". May 21, 2000. Retrieved December 22, 2009. 
  12. ^ A Chilling Look at the Death Penalty, Washington Post, July 26, 2004
  13. ^ Campaign 2000, January 31, 2000
  14. ^ Patrick Buchanan, Moral Corruption in Illinois, January 25, 2003.
  15. ^ 'Most distasteful thing I've ever done' nears for Fawell Chicago Tribune, September 28, 2005.
  16. ^ a b Election Funds Went to Relatives Chicago Tribune, October 7, 2005, accessed September 6, 2006.
  17. ^ Ryan daughter tells of no-work job Chicago Sun-Times, January 19, 2006, accessed online September 6, 2006.
  18. ^ Guilty on all charges Chicago Sun Times, April 18, 2006.
  19. ^ Ryan judge explains why she dismissed 2 charges Chicago Tribune, September 8, 2006, accessed same date.
  20. ^ Ex-Governor of Illinois Is Convicted on All Charges New York Times, April 17, 2006, accessed September 6, 2006.
  21. ^ Ryan gets 6½ years in prison Chicago Sun-Times, September 6, 2006, accessed same date.
  22. ^ Federal appeals court says Ryan can stay free on bail Chicago Sun-Times, November 29, 2006, accessed same date.
  23. ^ "Ex-Gov. Ryan's guilty verdict stands despite jury controversy". Chicago Tribune. August 21, 2007.,1,5669537.story. Retrieved 2007-08-21. 
  24. ^ "Ryan loses appeal". Chicago Tribune. October 25, 2007.,0,5267318.story?coll=chi_breaking_500. 
  25. ^ Case 06-3528 Appeal Opinion: USA v. Ryan, George H.|date=August 21, 2007
  26. ^ "Ryan down to last appeal". Chicago Tribune. November 1, 2007.,0,2632094.story. 
  27. ^ "U.S. Supreme Court turns down Ryan request to remain free". Chicago Tribune. November 6, 2007.,1,4539.story. 
  28. ^ "Former Illinois Governor Ryan enters prison". Reuters. November 7, 2007. 
  29. ^ Jason Meisner, Ex-Gov. Ryan switches prisons, Chicago Tribune, February 29, 2008.
  30. ^ Federal Bureau of Prisons Website
  31. ^ A Christmas card defense Chicago Tribune, February 3, 2006, accessed September 6, 2006.
  32. ^ Ex-Gov. to Bush: Let Ryan go Chicago Sun-Times, May 28, 2008.
  33. ^ Durbin, Richard J. (2008-12-01). "Durbin Releases Letter on Commutation for Governor Ryan". Retrieved 2008-12-23. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Dave O'Neal
Lieutenant Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Bob Kustra
Preceded by
Jim Edgar
Illinois Secretary of State
Succeeded by
Jesse White
Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Rod Blagojevich
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jim Edgar
Republican Party nominee for Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Jim Ryan


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