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The Nation

Ill. Governor's Campaign, 2 Former Top Aides Indicted

Courts: Lengthy inquiry leads to racketeering accusations in a case involving state workers. Ryan is not charged.

April 03, 2002|ERIC SLATER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. George Ryan's campaign committee and two top former aides were indicted Tuesday on racketeering charges, the most damaging in a series of indictments and convictions that helped prompt the once-promising governor to give up a run for a second term.

The indictments were the latest in a federal investigation dubbed Operation Safe Roads, which has focused on Ryan's tenure as secretary of state in the mid-1990s. The probe began as an inquiry into truck drivers paying bribes in exchange for commercial driver's licenses, with some of that ill-gotten money ending up in Ryan's gubernatorial campaign coffers. It has resulted in 42 convictions.

"The indictment alleges that Citizens for Ryan, as a campaign, for a number of years broke the law with considerable vigor," U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said. "Public funds were stolen and plundered for political benefit."

Scott Fawell, 44, was charged with racketeering, mail fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He served as Ryan's campaign manager and chief of staff when Ryan was secretary of state.

Fawell's chief lieutenant, Richard Juliano, 34, faces the same charges. His lawyer, however, said he has been cooperating with prosecutors for several months and has agreed to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud. Juliano became a liaison between the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Bush administration before resigning last week, according to the U.S. attorney's office here.

Ryan, 67, has not been charged in the scandal.

"The message sent today is that tax dollars are not free money . . . to be used for campaign purposes or for the personal benefit of those who work" for a political official, Fitzgerald said at a news conference.

For three years, federal prosecutors have alleged that when Ryan was secretary of state, a handful of his underlings pressured driver's license office managers to raise funds for his gubernatorial campaign. Driver Services Department authorities accepted bribes, prosecutors say, in exchange for issuing driver's licenses to under-qualified motorists, mostly commercial truck drivers.

The scheme probably raised a relatively paltry $170,000 for Ryan's successful 1998 gubernatorial bid, prosecutors say, but the results have been devastating.

Almost since Ryan's election, the so-called licenses-for-bribes scandal has dominated the local headlines. His massive overhaul of the troubled transportation system, and even his nationally recognized moratorium on the death penalty, have been overshadowed here.

As in the Enron Corp. debacle, prosecutors allege that many of the misdeeds here took place in an attempt to cover up previous ones.

The 80-page indictment alleges Fawell, Juliano and the campaign not only created false documents to account for how the funds were spent, they also shredded real ones.

The indictment also seeks to retrieve about $1 million raised and spent by Citizens for Ryan over several years in the mid-1990s, which could open the door to yet more prosecutions of allies who worked on his 1998 campaign.

Ryan's announcement in August that he would not seek a second term prompted a heated primary. After 25 years of GOP governorships, Democratic U.S. Rep. Rod R. Blagojevich hopes to retake the statehouse in Springfield but faces a tough campaign against two-term Republican state Atty. Gen. Jim Ryan, no relation to the governor, in November.

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