CHICAGO - A southern Illinois businessman testified Thursday that a close friend of George Ryan's demanded "to have his fees up front" before he lobbied in favor of locating a new state prison in the economically troubled community of Grayville.
Grayville residents paid Ron Swanson $50,000 to press their case in Springfield without knowing that Grayville had already been chosen, but Swanson knew it and knew it would be announced in a matter of days because Ryan had tipped him off, a witness and prosecutors say.
In fact, the former state senator was getting paid to lobby for a sure thing, they say.
The testimony from Mount Carmel motel owner Kevin Williams was the latest chapter in what prosecutors describe as a scheme by Ryan to use his power as secretary of state and later governor to help a select circle of lobbyist friends in return for gifts and free vacations.
Ryan, 71, and lobbyist-businessman Larry Warner, 67, are charged with racketeering, mail fraud and other offenses. Ryan and Warner say that nothing they did was illegal.
Williams testified that when Ryan was governor he contributed $12,000 to a fund that was raised to promote the economically troubled community as the site for a state prison.
It was the White County community's fourth try to get a state prison built there in hopes that it would provide an economic shot in the arm in the form of construction and other jobs.
Williams testified that the fund was raised by a longtime friend, Dr. Clyde Wilson, a dentist and civic booster who served as an unofficial cheerleader for bringing a new state prison and other economically beneficial institutions to Grayville.
Williams testified that the group hired Swanson to press the case for Grayville at the Statehouse in Springfield while the Ryan administration was deciding where to locate a new maximum security prison. He said Swanson was hired in March 2001.
Another witness, former federal prosecutor Matthew Bettenhausen, testified Wednesday that Ryan had told Swanson more than a week earlier, on Feb. 23, that Grayville would get the prison.
The testimony of the two men buttressed allegations by prosecutors that Swanson learned from Ryan that Grayville would get the prison, then signed up Wilson as his client and collected the $50,000 on the promise that he would lobby for what he secretly knew was already a certainty.
Swanson has pleaded guilty to lying to a federal grand jury and is awaiting his sentence.
Williams testified that he asked Swanson if he would take his fee in installments.
"He wanted to have his fees up front," Williams said. "He didn't want to be working for a contingency fee."
Bettenhausen also told jurors that by Illinois law the information that Grayville had been chosen was supposed to be kept confidential until legislative leaders had been informed.
Ryan's attorneys sought to impress on jurors that, when he leaked the information, Ryan was merely making chitchat with an old friend and had no intention of scheming to get Swanson money.
Another witness, JoEllen Seil, executive director of the White County Economic Development Group, told the trial how happy the community was when Ryan came to town on April 12, 2001, to announce that Grayville would be the new prison site.
She said a band and cheerleaders were on hand to greet the governor.
But there was no witness to tell jurors the fate of the prison. Ground was broken for the institution but the money was later held up and the project remains frozen.
Earlier, Ryan's attorneys expressed concern when it was discovered that a juror had been reading a Chicago magazine article describing chief defense counsel Dan K. Webb as "humble but lethal" and painting his firm of Winston & Strawn as big and high powered.
Chicago ran the article after the National Law Journal named Winston & Strawn's as "the litigation department of the year." It also ran a photo showing three of Ryan's lawyers, Julie Bauer, Bradley Lerman and Timothy Rooney.
U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer questioned the juror but decided to take no immediate action and sent the jury home to an 11-day holiday break. She also asked the attorneys who have churned out reams of motions in the last 14 weeks for a Christmas present for herself.
"All of you lawyers, please do take 24 hours off from writing motions," she said.