George Ryan did the crime, and he did the time – more than five years behind bars – despite the determined efforts of friends in high places who tried to have Illinois’ former governor released early.
Illinoisans who believe corrupt politicians should be duly punished for their crimes can take satisfaction that justice was served.
Ryan, 78, Illinois’ governor from 1999 to 2003, was convicted of corruption charges in 2006 and sentenced to 6 ½ years in federal prison. He entered prison on Nov. 7, 2007.
Ryan’s lawyer was another former governor, James R. Thompson, who defended Ryan free of charge and constantly looked for ways to get his friend out of jail.
In late 2008, after Ryan had served barely one year in prison, Thompson pushed to have outgoing President George W. Bush grant clemency to Ryan.
Ryan, Thompson and Bush all are Republicans, but surprisingly, some Democrats rallied to the cause. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin called for Ryan’s early release. So did then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, mere weeks before he himself was arrested on federal corruption charges.
Unfortunately for Ryan, but thankfully for the public, Bush ignored the clemency request. Ryan remained in prison.
A second big push to have Ryan freed early came during the final illness of Ryan’s wife, Lura Lynn, who died of cancer in June 2011.
Thompson tried every trick in the book to have Ryan freed early so that he could be at the side of his frail wife. Although officials allowed Ryan to leave prison temporarily to visit her, the criminal justice system stood firm that Ryan must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before his release.
Last Wednesday, after more than five years and two months, Ryan was released from the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., to home confinement at his Kankakee house. He was allowed to skip living at a Chicago halfway house. He will remain on home confinement until his prison sentence officially ends on July 4.
Compared with Ryan, two previous corrupt Illinois governors got off easy.
Otto Kerner, sentenced to three years in prison for corruption in the 1970s, served only seven months.
Dan Walker, sentenced to a total of seven years in the 1980s for bank fraud and perjury, served only 18 months.
Ryan served the state as House speaker, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and governor.
He served more than five years in prison.
And he now serves as a stark reminder that political corruption is no longer a game in Illinois. Those convicted of it should no longer expect quick reprieves.
Ryan’s successor, Blagojevich, began his 14-year prison term for corruption in March. Under federal rules, nearly 12 years must elapse before Blagojevich can expect to be released.
Ryan’s failure to win early release gives no comfort to Blagojevich or his supporters. However, it should give great comfort to long-suffering Illinoisans who are sick of corrupt politicians running roughshod over the law, sullying the state’s reputation, and not paying the price.