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Ryan case brings disappointment on many levels

Ryan case brings disappointment on many levels

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Following a jury verdict of guilty on all counts, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan said he was "disappointed in the outcome" of his trial.

Illinoisans are disappointed, too:

w Disappointed that another former governor has joined the list of convicted felons, sharing the dishonorable distinction with former Govs. Otto Kerner and Dan Walker.

w Disappointed that more fodder has been added to the state's reputation for political corruption.

w Disappointed that the indictment and, now, conviction of Ryan have not been enough to trigger meaningful campaign finance reform in Illinois.

w Disappointed that we might have to go through this trial all over again if the switch in two members of the jury after deliberations began results in the verdict being tossed out.

Ryan was convicted of federal charges of racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, false statements, tax fraud and filing a false tax return.

The case against him was an outgrowth of the "licenses for bribes" scandal in which individuals received drivers licenses in exchange for bribes while Ryan was Illinois secretary of state. Some of the money from those bribes wound up in Ryan's campaign fund.

Federal prosecutors built a case from drivers license examiners up the chain to top Ryan associates, then Ryan himself in the Operation Safe Road investigation.

Counting Ryan and his codefendant, longtime friend Larry Warner, federal prosecutors have obtained convictions against 76 people in the wide-ranging probe. No one has been acquitted.

Ryan decided against running for a second term as governor in 2002. He even cleared out death row, granting sentence commutations the week before he left office, in what some said was an attempt to deflect attention from his growing political and legal problems.

But less than a year later, Dec. 17, 2003, Ryan was indicted.

Evidence presented at his more than five-month-long trial painted a picture of a man who received cash and gifts as governor and secretary of state for steering lucrative contracts and leases to and through associates.

Illinois' lax laws on campaign financing, including solicitation of donations by and from state employees didn't create this mess, but they certainly contributed to it.

Ethics reforms have been instituted, but Illinois has a long way to go to escape the dark cloud of political corruption under which it has long operated.

If Ryan's conviction finally pushes Illinois officials to get serious about ending corruption, it could be a silver lining to that dark cloud.


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