Former Illinois governor George Ryan (R.) is living in a federal prison in western Indiana, convicted of racketeering, mail fraud, tax fraud, and lying to federal investigators.
Rep. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) wants to make sure he stays there.
“George Ryan abused his public office and was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury,” Kirk tells National Review Online. “He should be released from prison the same way others are released — through the parole process. He should not be released as part of a political favor.”
Ryan, age 74, has served just 13 months out of his 78-month sentence. His troubles began 14 years ago with a fiery car crash. On Nov. 8, 1994, Ricardo Guzman was driving a semi-truck on Interstate 94 outside Milwaukee. As he drove, other truck drivers tried to warn Guzman on the CB that a metal assembly was dangling from the rear of his truck. Guzman, who barely spoke English, could not understand them. When the rear assembly finally came flying off and hit the pavement, it punctured the gas tank of a family’s minivan. The vehicle burst into flames, killing the six children inside and badly burning their parents, the Rev. Scott Willis and his wife, Janet.
Guzman and hundreds of other unqualified applicants had obtained their truck licenses in Illinois by bribing officials who worked under then-Secretary of State George Ryan. But that wasn’t clear at the time, and Ryan did a good job of keeping it that way: Months after Guzman’s accident, Ryan fired or transferred most of the employees in his office’s Inspector General department in order to quash the subsequent investigation.
The illegally licensed drivers had caused at least 55 accidents, including a 74-car pileup in California that killed two people and injured 51. As James Merriner recounts in his new political biography of Ryan, The Man Who Emptied Death Row, a total of eleven traffic deaths were attributable to the licenses fraudulently obtained from Ryan’s office.
Much of the bribe money was funneled into Ryan’s campaign coffers, and he was elected governor in 1998. It wasn’t until 2006 that Ryan was convicted on 18 federal counts, only some of which were related to the license scheme.
For years, Ryan had also been steering state business and leases to friends in exchange for cash and gifts, including trips to Jamaica, about which he lied to the FBI. Ryan spread his campaign’s funds among his family members. He ran his and his allies’ political campaigns on state time with state employees in state offices, and his aides shredded campaign records and wiped hard drives clean to cover it up. As Merriner recounts in detail, Ryan’s friends were selling favors out of his office, including low-digit license plates, in exchange for campaign contributions. They shook down companies that did or sought business with the state, demanding to be hired as “consultants” for five- and six-figure amounts in exchange for little or no work.