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Ryan convicted in corruption trial
Co-defendant Warner also guilty
By Matt O�Connor and Rudolph Bush
Tribune staff reporters
Published April 17, 2006, 11:11 PM CDT
George Ryan Sr., a consummate political dealmaker who rose to become Illinois' 39th governor, was convicted Monday on sweeping federal corruption charges of wielding power to help himself and his friends.
After a historic, marathon trial, a federal jury in its 11th day of deliberations found Ryan guilty on all 18 counts of steering state business to cronies for bribes, of gutting corruption-fighting efforts to protect political fundraising and of misusing state resources for political gain.
Ryan's co-defendant, lobbyist and longtime friend Lawrence Warner, was also found guilty on all 12 counts against him.
Ryan's lawyer, Dan Webb, signaled an appeal was certain and would focus on U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer's decision to oust two jurors eight days into a first round of deliberations for concealing arrest records during jury selection in September. She added two alternates and ordered deliberations restarted.
U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald called Ryan's quashing of investigations into the sale of driver's licenses for bribes as secretary of state "a low-water mark for public service."
In brief remarks after the verdict was announced, Ryan said he was disappointed with the jury's decision but confident that he would be vindicated on appeal.
"I believe this decision today is not in accordance with the kind of public service that I've provided to the people of Illinois over 40 years," Ryan told a throng of reporters as he left the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.
Reached later by telephone, Warner, who made more than $3 million on the insider deals, said he was unprepared for the guilty verdicts.
"I've been trying not to have negative thoughts," Warner said. "I honestly thought I would walk."
With the verdicts, Operation Safe Road has snared 75 convictions, ranking it with Operation Greylord, the 1980s probe of judicial corruption, as the most successful federal investigations in modern Chicago history in reach and significance.
The conviction marked a stunning fall from grace for Ryan, the third former governor to be convicted of wrongdoing in Illinois history. A onetime legislator from Kankakee, he rose to House speaker before holding statewide office for 20 consecutive years as lieutenant governor, secretary of state and governor. He gained international renown in 2003 for commuting the death sentences of condemned inmates in Illinois.
Federal law-enforcement authorities expressed confidence the jury's decision would be upheld on appeal.
Jury looked at 'totality of case'
"This case was tried witness by witness, piece of evidence by piece of evidence, and it was only by looking at the totality of the case that the true picture could be shown to this jury," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick Collins, in charge of the prosecution. "And that was a picture of corruption at the highest levels of government."
The deliberations have played out over more than a month amid controversy. After the Tribune discovered last month that two jurors had apparently concealed their arrest records during jury selection in September, Pallmeyer excused them, added alternates in their place and ordered deliberations to start over again.
By then the original jury had deliberated eight days. There were were signs of personal rancor during those deliberations and after a note had indicated "personal difficulties" among jurors, the judge responded in writing by asking jurors to treat one another with "dignity and respect."
The defense sought a mistrial, suggesting that one or both of the excused jurors had been holdouts for Ryan.
The legal arguments in that dispute took place behind closed doors, and Pallmeyer hasn't released edited transcripts of those hearings yet.
Though the judge lifted a gag order following the verdicts, lawyers in the case declined to discuss those closed-door discussions since they remain under seal.
In a rare press conference involving jurors, six of the panelists spoke Monday of the grueling experience of serving more than half a year and said testimony by a series of secretary of state employees proved crucial to their verdicts. Most of the corruption occurred during Ryan's two terms as secretary of state in the 1990s.
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