What Next for George Ryan
From the July 3, 2010 Chicago Daily Observer
The Supreme Court ruling that limits enforcement of the “honest services” statute has renewed talk of releasing George Ryan from prison.
Efforts to spring Ryan from prison have been made on several occasions, and seem to come around as regular as clockwork. Only the circumstances of the pleas change. Sometimes it is because Ryan is ill. Or his wife is ill. Or because Ryan feels bad about what happened.
This time, Ryan will use the court ruling as his angle. But the ruling didn’t strike down the law that allows prosecution of an official for depriving his constituents of his “honest services.” Convictions will stand if bribes or kickbacks were involved.
These clearly were part of Ryan’s conviction. He cannot get his conviction overturned. However, Ryan may ask for a new sentencing based on the ruling, and he hopes it will mean a quicker release date.
Ryan has spent the last two and a half years in a federal prison after being convicted on 22 counts of racketeering, fraud and other crimes. He has four years left on his sentence.
Some people – including politicians who are doing the same things Ryan did –have sympathy because they believe Ryan really didn’t do anything wrong, that his political horse-trading was politics as usual, and the rules of the game were changed without Ryan being told about it. Even Ryan doesn’t know what he did wrong.
Aside from the definite criminal acts committed by Gov. Ryan, the public should be aware of what “business as usual” has meant in the 40-year political career of George Ryan.
George Ryan began his career in the Kankakee political machine created more than a century ago by Len Small, where no one got a job at the massive state hospital in Kankakee without paying off Small, and no one kept their job without kicking back part of their pay to Small. No merchant did business with the state hospital without making a graft payment. Every contract with the hospital made Small richer and richer.
The business as usual continued with State Rep. Victor McBroom and his son Edward for the next 60 years. People had to buy a car from McBroom’s dealership if they wanted a job, and they had to trade them in regularly if they wanted to keep their job. George Ryan was McBroom’s protégé. Anyone seeking favors had to fill their prescriptions at Ryan’s pharmacy and sell tickets to fundraisers.
George Ryan’s first big scandal was in 1973, when he was accused of trying to bribe a candidate not to run against his choice for Kankakee County sheriff. A year after that, Kankakee Mayor Tom Ryan (George’s brother) appointed Dean Bauer chief of police. This was the same Dean Bauer convicted with George in 2006. Bauer ran the police department on a political basis. Important people in Kankakee or those who supported the party had traffic tickets torn up or charges dropped. A Kankakee police officer who was arrested for shoplifting in 1974 had his case “fixed” and all charges dropped. In 1975, it was revealed that Bauer used his police force as chauffeurs for local officials and connected businessmen, taking them to and from O’Hare airport and other Chicago destinations.
Tom Ryan was defeated in 1985 after 20 years as mayor. He then got a $34,000 do-nothing job with the state Department of Transportation while keeping his full-time job at his pharmacy. He resigned six years later, after accusations of ghost-pay rolling.
This position was so unimportant that it remained vacant for nine years – until Gov. Ryan gave the job to Dean Bauer, after Bauer resigned in disgrace as inspector general. The job now paid Bauer $71,580. A few years later, Bauer went to prison.
In 1988, Tom Ryan and other “connected” politicians and businessmen started Comguard, which manufactured ankle bracelets to monitor convicts on house arrest. Comguard quickly got a $180,000 state contract. Even with this, the company had financial problems and it took a questionable $150,000 loan from Kankakee County in 1993. Two years later, it defaulted on the loan. The ankle bracelets never did work well.
In a bitter fight to win the post of House minority leader in 1976, State Rep. William Walsh of LaGrange Park said “political payoffs” were made in “an awful and blatant attempt to buy the election” for Ryan.
Ryan led the fight that defeated a bill in 1976 to require pharmacists to inform the public about less expensive generic drugs. Between 1980 and 1982, Ryan’s pharmacy sold medical equipment to Manteno Mental Health Center and to the University of Illinois, in violation of the Illinois Purchasing Act that prohibited state officials from doing business directly with state agencies.
Ryan drew up a reapportionment map in 1981 that even fellow Republicans called ”gerrymandering …that treats black suburbanites in a manner that is uncouth and unconstitutional.” Ryan lost the fight, and the state billed him $75,000, since the battle was a political one. Ryan solicited contributions to pay the bill.
Two female janitors at the Capitol sued Ryan in 1982 after being fired following their attendance at a fund raiser for Susan Catania, Ryan’s opponent for lieutenant governor.
Ryan’s pharmacy was getting $60,000 a year in Medicaid prescriptions from Westview Terrace nursing home in Kankakee, until Morris Enformes bought the place and switched pharmacies. In 1981, the Illinois Department of Public Health investigated neglect and abuse of elderly residents at Enformes’ other nursing homes, after an 85-year-old patient died of infected bedsores. Ryan arranged a meeting between Enformes and William Kempiners, who was the director of the IDPH and a political crony of George Ryan. Kempiners then dropped the charges against Enformes, over the objections of the two other members of the IDPH board, Dr. George Mosley and Alan Litweiler. Ryan’s pharmacy got back its annual $60,000 in business with Westview Terrace.
It was the Chicago Sun-Times and the Better Government Association that exposed the deal. Ryan threatened to sue the “little squirt” Terrence Bruner, BGA’s executive director, but he did not.
Westview Terrace was cited with 20 violations of federal standards in 1982, including inadequate care, poor sanitation and rodent infestation. In one example, maggots were found in a plastic catheter tube on an 87-year-old patient when the bandage was changed. Nothing was done.
In October 1986, NBC-Channel 5 in Chicago exposed Ryan’s misuse of state airplanes over the previous two years as lieutenant governor. Ryan and his family used state airplanes hundreds of times at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to fly to golf outings, to the theatre, to dental appointments and more.
George Ryan’s 1990 campaign for secretary of state was called the “nastiest” of all state races by the Associated Press. In a televised debate with State Treasurer Jerry Cosentino (who also later ended up in jail), both accused one another of improprieties and of using their public office for personal gain.
Cosentino said Ryan “hired every family member in Kankakee, all of your friends” and funneled payoffs through a business association.
Rick Davis, a Cosentino aide, said Ryan spent $16,622 in two years at a Springfield bar owned by Chicago politician Sam Panayotovich. Davis said the bar overcharged Ryan and he pocketed the difference, which amounted to money laundering. Davis said Ryan had “established a pattern whereby he does funky stuff with money. Jerry Cosentino borrows money and George steals it.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Ryan’s biggest contribution was $10,000 from Azzarelli Construction of Kankakee, which had been convicted of bid-rigging and mail fraud, and was barred from bidding on road projects involving federal funds for three years.
Ryan tried to get the state Department of Children and Family Services to hire a politically connected friend who had been convicted of delivery of LSD and possession of amphetamines.
George Ryan was accused of paying consultant Paul Lis $54,000 a year for three years, at taxpayer expense, to work on his political campaign. Rich Miller, editor of Capital Fax, said Lis was promising Chicago Tribune endorsements to candidates in exchange for cash.
A November 1993 report by Channel 5 and the BGA said Ryan turned his “statutory responsibility to police the automobile business into a political profit center.” The report said Ryan got $237,000 in campaign contributions from automobile dealers. Ryan’s inspectors “who hold life and death power over these small businesses…routinely solicited (money), sometimes in the middle of an inspection.” Michael Lyons, BGA deputy director, said, “Clearly fear and intimidation are an overwhelming element. Small business owners in Illinois ought to be able to do business free from harassment by government inspectors.”
State Treasurer Pat Quinn, Ryan’s opponent for secretary of state in 1994, said, “For three years, Secretary of State George Ryan has used an army of taxpayer-financed inspectors as front-line collectors of campaign cash.”
A bill to bar state inspectors from soliciting campaign funds from businesses they regulate failed in the House in April 1994. The debate turned into an attack on George Ryan’s ethics. Oak Lawn auto body shop owner Larry Clarida told the House committee he was frequently bothered by inspectors after he refused to cough up a donation to Ryan.
Ryan was caught giving a $15,000 no-bid contract to a company run by a former state Republican party chairman. Quinn called it “political cronyism.” Ryan responded in his usual fashion — accusing Quinn of his own conflicts of interest.
As the 1994 race heated up, Ryan decided that his office’s organ donation program needed more publicity. He spent $1.2 million in tax dollars saturating TV airwaves with commercials — with himself as the on-screen pitchman. In one ad, Ryan sits with a small child, used for sympathy. Rep. Jan Schakowsky said she thought it was a campaign ad.
Quinn criticized Ryan’s political junkets to Australia, Mexico, Scotland, Denmark, England, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Belgium, Hawaii, Arizona, Las Vegas and Florida. Quinn also questioned Ryan’s need for eight bodyguards as lieutenant governor and secretary of state. “State troopers should be fighting crime here in Illinois, not carrying George Ryan’s golf clubs in Scotland,” Quinn said.
Ryan made a deal to grant a casino license to the mobbed-up Chicago suburb of Rosemont in 1999. That deal ended when organized crime figures were revealed to be part of the casino operation. Even the governor’s own Illinois Gaming Board would not approve the license in the face of this, even as Ryan replaced board members in order to force the deal to happen.
Just before Thanksgiving 2008, after only a year behind bars, an intense publicity campaign by some very influential people sought a pardon for Ryan, as President George W. Bush was about to leave office. But even when seeking a presidential commutation, George Ryan could not admit guilt or real remorse for his actions. In a statement on Nov. 27, 2008, Ryan said his “failings” brought “humiliation” on his family and on his reputation. “My heart is heavy, knowing that I have hurt the public, my family and my friends in failing to keep their trust. I failed them.”
This was an apology? This was remorse? A year sitting in stir to think about it all, and Ryan still could not tell the difference between a crime and a failing, a major racketeering operation and a minor flaw in his personality.
Even Mrs. Ryan showed a tough and defiant arrogance, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that neither she nor her husband has any regrets. “His conscience is as clear as his mind,” Mrs. Ryan said. “If he had it to do over, and I’ve heard him say this, he would govern the same way as he did before.”
Another big effort for clemency was mounted a year later. This time, it was Mrs. Ryan’s health that was used as a plea to release her husband.
George Ryan was guilty of more than just failing to provide “honest services.” He was convicted on 22 counts, including racketeering, mail fraud, extortion, money laundering, filing false tax returns, tax fraud, lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice.
He and Larry Warner were found guilty of steering state contracts to cronies, rigging phony leases, shaking down companies for bribes to get state contracts, using state money to run campaigns, killing an investigation of driver’s license bribery during his terms as governor and secretary of state, and a lot more. In all, 76 former state officials, lobbyists, truck drivers and others were charged in the “Operation Safe Roads” investigation.
“Ryan not only didn’t clean up the office when he was first elected in 1990, he actually made the situation much worse in his second term, immediately after those kids were killed in ’94,” wrote Rich Miller. “Instead of wiping the slate clean, Ryan installed the vigorously corrupt Scott Fawell as his chief of staff, ramped up the license-for-bribes program beyond anything seen before, harassed whistle-blowers, and shut down all investigations that attempted to root out the corruption and get to the truth about why those Willis children died. And for that, he should rot.”
This was a lot more than Ryan and his cronies taking a few bribes for driver’s licenses. And it was a lot more than Ryan depriving his constituents of “honest services.”
All of those crimes were just a logical progression that was in character with George Ryan’s criminal-political career for 40 years.
All of this is what should be remembered when sympathy for George Ryan is brought up today.
Jim Ridings, a downstate newspaper reporter, is the author of a definitive biography of Len Small and is a political analyst for The Chicago Daily Observer.