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Former aide: Employees gave Ryan thousands in Christmas cash

Former aide: Employees gave Ryan thousands in Christmas cash

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CHICAGO - George Ryan received thousands of dollars in annual Christmas cash from his office employees along with neatly printed lists of those who donated the money when he was secretary of state and later governor, a witness testified at his racketeering and fraud trial Thursday.

The testimony came hours after prosecutors rested their case and defense attorneys launched their effort to dig the former governor out from under charges that he got free vacations in Jamaica and gifts from friends who got rich off millions of dollars in state contracts.

Defense attorneys wanted jurors to know about the Christmas money as one explanation for testimony that Ryan always seemed to carry a wad of cash. But prosecutors sought to turn the tables and paint Ryan as an Ebenezer Scrooge who squeezed cash gifts from low-paid state workers.

"Did he ever say he wouldn't take cash from janitors and other people who were making less than he did?" federal prosecutor Joel R. Levin asked former Ryan office worker Vicki Easley.

"No," she answered.

"Did Mr. Ryan ever give any cash to janitors in the office that you know of?" Levin asked.

"Not that I know of," she said.

Ryan, 71, and businessman Larry Warner, 67, are charged with racketeering, mail fraud and other offenses. The indictment says Ryan steered state contracts to Warner and other friends and was rewarded with vacations and gifts.

Ryan and Warner say nothing they did was illegal.

It was landmark moment when prosecutors rested Thursday after an 18-week government case. But it came without fanfare or drama, and defense attorneys began calling witnesses immediately.

Easley, a longtime Ryan office employee who had testified as a prosecution witness, returned to the stand Thursday afternoon - this time as a defense witness.

Prosecutors had emphasized testimony from Ryan bodyguards and others that the former governor always seemed to carry a wad of cash, even though they never saw him visit a bank.

Easley testified that every Christmas Ryan's employees collected money and delivered it to him in a card. One card said: "To a Special Boss."

Also tucked into the card were neatly printed lists of those who donated money, she said.

She agreed with Levin when he asked if the printed lists meant Ryan could see not only who donated money but also who didn't. But she said no one was forced to give.

The money was collected in the Springfield and Chicago offices, Easley said.

Writing on the envelope that came with the 2001 card contained scrawled calculations: $470 from 34 employees in the Chicago office for an average of $13.80 per employee. Added to $3,030 from employees in the Springfield office produced $3,500 "total cash," the handwriting said.

A going-away gift was collected in 2002 as Ryan was leaving office, she said. The list of those who contributed contained the names of staffers, lobbyists and others.

They included lobbyists Ron Swanson and Jerry Shea and businessman Ron Gidwitz, who was named chairman of the State Board of Education by Ryan and now is a candidate for governor.

Another defense witness was Alexander Lerner, chief executive officer of the Illinois State Medical Society. He said he told Ryan he should appoint Warner or someone like Warner to a seat on Chicago's Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.

Defense attorneys were hoping Lerner's testimony would explain a remark by Ryan in an interview with FBI Agent Raymond Ruebenson and prosecutors that Warner came recommended by Chicago construction millionaire James Kenny, now the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

Jurors had already heard Kenny testify that he never recommended Warner.

Defense attorneys theorize that Ryan had Lerner mixed up with Kenny in the interview.

On cross-examination, prosecutor Zachary T. Fardon immediately went to work on Lerner's background and post with the medical society, among other things the lobbying voice of the state's doctors at the Statehouse in Springfield.

Lerner acknowledged close ties with three men convicted of federal crimes involving the scandal, including former medical society lobbyist Donald Udstuen, who has pleaded guilty to tax fraud and told the jury he got at least $80,000 in secret lobbying fees through Warner.

Lerner also said he was unsure how much the society gave to Ryan's 1998 campaign.

"More than $100,000?" Fardon asked.

"Yes," Lerner said.

"No more questions," Fardon said.


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