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Former Ill. governor is convicted of racketeering

Steered contracts to friends, insiders

CHICAGO -- Former governor George Ryan, who drew international praise when he commuted the sentences of everyone on Illinois's death row, was convicted of racketeering and fraud yesterday in a corruption scandal that ended his political career in 2003.

Ryan, 72, sat stone-faced as the verdict was read, and afterward vowed he would appeal.

''I believe this decision today is not in accordance with the kind of public service that I provided to the people of Illinois over 40 years, and needless to say I am disappointed in the outcome," he said.

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said Ryan's actions represented ''a low water mark of public service."

Robert Grant, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Chicago office, said the verdict emphasizes that no one is above the law. ''I hope this case begins the end of political prostitution that seems to have been evident in the state of Illinois," he said.

Ryan, a Republican, faces up to 20 years in prison on the racketeering conspiracy charge alone, the most serious against him in the 22-count indictment. The jury found him guilty of all counts, including fraud, obstructing the Internal Revenue Service, and lying to the FBI. Sentencing was set for Aug. 4.

Codefendant Larry Warner, a Chicago businessman and Ryan friend, was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, attempted extortion, illegally structuring bank withdrawals, and money laundering.

Prosecutors accused Ryan of steering big-money state contracts and leases, including a $25 million IBM computer deal, to his friends and political insiders while he was secretary of state in the 1990s and then as governor starting in 1999.

In return for that help, Ryan was rewarded with annual winter vacations and gifts ranging from a golf bag to $145,000 in loans to his brother's business, prosecutors said.

Warner, 67, raked in $3 million from Ryan-era deals, according to Fitzgerald's office.

It was the state's biggest political corruption trial in decades, and had its share of troubles. In late March, months of testimony nearly went down the drain when the judge discovered two jurors had failed to mention arrests on their court questionnaires. Rather than declare a mistrial, US District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer decided to replace the two jurors with alternates and ordered the jury to start deliberations over.

The corruption scandal that led to Ryan's downfall began over a decade ago with a much smaller focus: a federal investigation into a fiery van crash in Wisconsin that killed six children. The deadly 1994 crash exposed a scheme inside the Illinois secretary of state's office in which unqualified truck drivers obtained licenses for bribes. Ryan was secretary of state at the time, and prosecutors would later argue that thousands of dollars in payoff money from the licenses went into a Ryan campaign fund.

The probe expanded over the next eight years into a wide-ranging corruption investigation that eventually reached Ryan in the governor's office. Even as he faced federal charges back home, Ryan accepted speaking invitations across the country and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his criticism of the death penalty.

Seventy-nine former state officials, lobbyists, truck drivers, and others have been since charged. Before Ryan's trial, 74 had been convicted.

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