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Ex-Gov. Ryan's appeal rejected

The ruling moves the former Illinois politician closer to serving his 6 1/2 -year prison sentence in a corruption scandal.

August 22, 2007|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — A federal appellate court Tuesday upheld the fraud and corruption conviction of George H. Ryan, a legal blow that puts the former Illinois governor one step closer to serving the 6 1/2 -year prison sentence for his role in a widespread corruption scandal.

While his attorneys scrambled to file motions to appeal the 2-1 decision by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which turned down Ryan's request for a new trial on the claim the jury process was flawed, they also sought to keep the 73-year-old free on bail.

Late Tuesday, the appellate court ruled that the Republican former governor -- who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 after placing a moratorium on executions -- could stay out of prison until the full 11-judge court decides whether to hear the appeal.

"Gov. Ryan is obviously disappointed and worried" about Tuesday's ruling, James Thompson, Ryan's attorney and himself a former Illinois governor, said at a news conference.

"We believe that he was deprived of his constitutional right to a fair jury trial," he said. "We will fight this to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary."

The case has tarnished a political legacy that spanned more than three decades -- and underscored the state's history of political graft and cronyism.

In April 2006, a jury found Ryan guilty of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts for himself and his family in exchange for steering millions of dollars' worth of state business to friends and associates.

The trial, which lasted nearly six months and involved scores of witnesses, covered crimes from 1991 to early 2003, when Ryan was Illinois' secretary of state and governor.

Among other things, Ryan accepted free tickets to Chicago Bulls playoff games, visited Jamaica at someone else's expense and enjoyed complimentary trips to Las Vegas casinos with co-defendant Lawrence E. Warner, court testimony showed. The appellate court also upheld the conviction of Warner, a businessman and longtime friend of the Ryan family.

"The court's ruling is surprising in some ways, because the 7th Circuit allowed Gov. Ryan to remain free all this time," said Mike Lawrence, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. "That suggested the court believed the appeal had some merit."

The federal criminal trial was fraught with controversy, particularly with regards to the jury.

While jurors weighed the evidence, the Chicago Tribune reported that two of them had not disclosed information about their criminal backgrounds during jury selection. U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer replaced the pair with alternates eight days into deliberations, and ordered the jurors to restart the process.

"We conclude that the district court handled most problems that arose in an acceptable manner, and that whatever error remained was harmless," Judge Diane Wood wrote in the appellate court's majority opinion.

". . . In the end, the evidence supporting the jury's verdict was overwhelming."

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p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

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