The other Illinois governor still behind bars, George Ryan, ended his stay in a federal prison and is now in what criminal justice types curiously term a Halfway House, deep into Chicago.
About the only bipartisan thing Illinois government does is periodically send governors of either party to prison. Ryan, 79, is in poor health. What he did depends largely on which attorney is speaking.
Ryan’s attorney will tell you that he spent 5-and-a-half years in a tough federal prison for a victimless crime involving bribery. He should had his sentence commuted and maybe should have spent a year or two in a minimum security prison; during his incarceration with killers and rapists, his beloved wife and his brother died. Many Illinois residents think he was over-sentenced, and that a Democratic governor would have been let out much earlier.
On the other hand, the Czar—and a heck of a lot of people—remember George Ryan differently.
He was horribly corrupt at a time when Illinois could least afford it. And people literally died because of it.
A pastor and his wife were driving with their six young children in Wisconsin, when an incapacitated truck driver from Illinois slammed into their vehicle. All six children were burned to death as their helpless parents watched. Police quickly found the truck driver was utterly unqualified to drive any vehicle, and wondered how he got his license.
A subsequent investigation found his driver’s license was issued through official Illinois channels, even though he should never have received it. Cooperating with authorities, the driver said he paid a small amount of cash to the Secretary of State’s office (Illinois’ DMV) and got it, no questions asked. He heard about it from a friend.
Eventually, investigators found an ungodly amount of illegally issued licenses were issued—and not just driver’s licenses. An entire ring of licenses, permits, contracts, and so on, were being handed out by various Illinois officials for cash. It took very little time for authorities to trace this all back to George Ryan’s office.
And then the bombshell: an involved employee offered to testify against the others, and another agreed to testify in exchange for immunity. Ryan was collecting the cash and putting it into his campaign funds, which in turn were being used for personal, rather than campaign, purposes. The nearly 80 employees involved were all compensated for their efforts.
And that’s why George Ryan went to jail. At the next election, the inept Illinois GOP decided to run a surprisingly qualified and squeaky clean candidate for governor; unfortunately, his name was Jim Ryan. Anyone with a brain would have advised running a candidate with a different name, but not these morons. Jim Ryan was indeed quite superb as a candidate, and had enough horse sense to put JIM on his campaign posters rather than his last name. Democrats ran Rod Blagojevich, who never hesitated to remind people that “Ryan” was being investigated for bribery and corruption. Voters who hate politics never realized these were two different guys and elected Blagojevich. You know what happened to him; you also know that Barack Obama wound up in a better position to advance up the political ladder because of Blagojevich’s fallout with the Chicago political machine.
So when people weep that perhaps the law was too harsh on poor old George Ryan, the Czar tends to think about those six children and their tortured parents, who suffered an unbelievable pain because George Ryan was a greedy bag of crap who knowingly, persistently, and massively betrayed the public trust with utter disdain for the law, the people of Illinois, and ultimately the entire nation.
Sorry he had to see his wife and brother die of old age while he rested in prison. There are a couple of parents who got to watch their children burn to death in a minivan because of Ryan. Count your blessings, Governor.