Federal court denies ex-Illinois governor's appeal

August 6, 2012

The Associated Press

(AP/File)

A federal court in Chicago on Monday denied George Ryan's latest appeal seeking his release from prison, dashing what was widely regarded as the former Illinois governor's last credible hope to cut short his 6 1/2-year sentence for corruption.

Even though the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals complex, 16-page ruling didn't go in the 78-year-old Republican's favor, he doesn't have too much longer to wait behind bars. He is scheduled to finish serving his sentence at a Terre Haute, Ind., prison in mid-2013.

Ryan was convicted of steering state contracts and leases to insiders as secretary of state and then as governor — receiving vacations and gifts in return. He also was accused of stopping an investigation into secretary of state employees accepting bribes for truck driver's licenses.

Last year, the same court rejected arguments that prosecutors never proved at Ryan's 2006 trial that he took bribes. But the U.S. Supreme Court in April took issue with how the three appellate judges reached their finding and ordered them to decide again.

In doing that, Monday's opinion addresses the legal language employed by the sides at Ryan's trial and concludes that — whatever terms were bandied about — jurors clearly believed prosecutors proved Ryan took bribes.

Defense attorneys had argued that gifts and vacations Ryan received from people who later got state business were based on friendship, weren't an exchange for financial benefits and, therefore, weren't bribes.

One of several examples cited in Monday's ruling was a $3,185 check written by a lobbyist to pay for a band to play at the wedding of Ryan's daughter

"Ryan's lawyers vigorously argued that these benefits were tokens of friendship, and that he did nothing in return for them," the opinion said. But, it continues, prosecutors had fundamentally argued at trial that they were bribes and, "The verdict shows that the jury found in the prosecution's favor."

The legal wrangling grew out of a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that curtailed so called "honest services" laws across the country, specifying that they must be applied to clear instances of bribery or kickbacks.

Such laws have been used in corruption cases against politicians and executives accused of violating their duty to offer "honest services." But the court's 2010 ruling largely agreed with critics who complained the laws were often too vague.

A message left for Ryan's attorney and longtime friend, former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, was not immediately returned Monday. Thompson had said before the latest loss in the courts that defense lawyers could file yet another appeal with the nation's highest court.

Thompson said last month that Ryan also is still struggling to cope with the death of his wife of 55 years, Lura Lynn Ryan. Ryan was released for several hours to be at his wife's side before she died last year, though he wasn't allowed to attend her funeral.

Ryan's successor as governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, is also in prison for corruption; he began serving a 14-year term in March.