George Ryan

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George Ryan
2007 Governor George Ryan crop4.JPG
39th Governor of Illinois
In office
January 11, 1999 January 13, 2003
Lieutenant Corinne Wood
Preceded by Jim Edgar
Succeeded by Rod Blagojevich
36th Secretary of State of Illinois
In office
January 14, 1991 January 11, 1999
GovernorJim Edgar
Preceded by Jim Edgar
Succeeded by Jesse White
42nd Lieutenant Governor of Illinois
In office
January 10, 1983 January 14, 1991
Governor James R. Thompson
Preceded by Dave O'Neal
Succeeded by Bob Kustra
65th Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives
In office
January 14, 1981 January 10, 1983
Governor James R. Thompson
Preceded by William A. Redmond
Succeeded by Arthur A. Telcser
Personal details
George Homer Ryan

(1934-02-24) February 24, 1934 (age 85) [1]
Maquoketa, Iowa, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Lura Lynn Lowe (June 10, 1956 – June 28, 2011; her death)
Residence Kankakee, Illinois
Alma mater Ferris State College
Profession Pharmacist
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States
Branch/serviceFlag of the United States Army (official proportions).svg  United States Army
Years of service19541956
[2] [3] [4] [5]

George Homer Ryan Sr. (born February 24, 1934) [6] is an American former politician who was the 39th Governor of the U.S. state of Illinois from 1999 until 2003. He is a member of the Republican Party. Ryan received national attention for his 1999 moratorium on executions in Illinois and for commuting more than 160 death sentences to life sentences in 2003. He was later convicted of federal corruption charges and spent more than five years in federal prison and seven months of home confinement. He was released from federal prison on July 3, 2013.

Americans citizens, or natives, of the United States of America

Americans are nationals and citizens of the United States of America. Although nationals and citizens make up the majority of Americans, some dual citizens, expatriates, and permanent residents may also claim American nationality. The United States is home to people of many different ethnic origins. As a result, American culture and law does not equate nationality with race or ethnicity, but with citizenship and permanent allegiance.

Governor of Illinois head of state and of government of the U.S. state of Illinois

The Governor of Illinois is the chief executive of the State of Illinois, and the various agencies and departments over which the officer has jurisdiction, as prescribed in the state constitution. It is a directly elected position, votes being cast by popular suffrage of residents of the state. The governor is responsible for enacting laws passed by the Illinois General Assembly. Illinois is one of 14 states that does not have a gubernatorial term-limit. The governor is commander-in-chief of the state's land, air and sea forces, when they are in state service.

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders. Four states use the term commonwealth rather than state in their full official names.


Early life

Ryan was born in Maquoketa, Iowa, the son of Jeannette (Bowman) and Thomas Ryan, a pharmacist. [7] [8] Ryan grew up in Kankakee County, Illinois. After serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, he worked for his father's two drugstores. [9] He attended Ferris State College of Pharmacy (now Ferris State University) in Big Rapids, Michigan. Eventually, he built his father's pair of pharmacies into a successful family-run chain (profiting from lucrative government-contract business selling prescription drugs to nursing homes) which he sold in 1990. [9] [10]

Maquoketa, Iowa City in Iowa, United States

Maquoketa is a city in Jackson county in the U.S. state of Iowa. Located on the Maquoketa River, it is the county seat of Jackson County.

Kankakee County, Illinois County in the United States

Kankakee County is a county located in the U.S. state of Illinois. According to the 2010 census, it has a population of 113,449. Its county seat is Kankakee.

South Korea Republic in East Asia

South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (ROK), is a country in East Asia, constituting the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and lying to the east of the Asian mainland. The name Korea is derived from Goguryeo which was one of the great powers in East Asia during its time, ruling most of the Korean Peninsula, Manchuria, parts of the Russian Far East and Inner Mongolia, under Gwanggaeto the Great. South Korea lies in the north temperate zone and has a predominantly mountainous terrain. It comprises an estimated 51.4 million residents distributed over 100,363 km2 (38,750 sq mi). Its capital and largest city is Seoul, with a population of around 10 million.

Ryan was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1954. He served a 13-month tour in Korea, working in a base pharmacy. [11]

Conscription in the United States "The draft" in the United States

Conscription in the United States, commonly known as the draft, has been employed by the federal government of the United States in five conflicts: the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. The third incarnation of the draft came into being in 1940 through the Selective Training and Service Act. It was the country's first peacetime draft. From 1940 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the United States Armed Forces that could not be filled through voluntary means. The draft came to an end when the United States Armed Forces moved to an all-volunteer military force. However, the Selective Service System remains in place as a contingency plan; all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register so that a draft can be readily resumed if needed. United States Federal Law also provides for the compulsory conscription of men between the ages of 17 and 45 and certain women for militia service pursuant to Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution and 10 U.S. Code § 246.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

On June 10, 1956, Ryan married his high school sweetheart, Lura Lynn Lowe (July 5, 1934 – June 27, 2011) whom he had met in a high school English class. She grew up in Aroma Park, where her family (originally from Germany) had lived since 1834. Her father owned one of the first hybrid seed companies in the United States. [12] The couple had five daughters (including a set of triplets); [10] Julie, Joanne, Jeanette, Lynda and Nancy; [13] [14] and one son, George Homer Ryan, Jr. [15] [16] [17] [18]

Lura Lynn Ryan was the First Lady of the U.S. state of Illinois from 1999 to 2003. She was the wife of former Illinois Governor George Ryan.

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

Aroma Park, Illinois Village in Illinois, United States

Aroma Park is a village in Kankakee County, Illinois, United States, along the Kankakee River opposite the mouth of the Iroquois River. Aroma Park is a suburb of the city of Kankakee. Aroma Park's population was 743 at the 2010 census, down from 821 at the 2000 census. It is included in the Kankakee-Bradley, Illinois Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Lura Lowe died of lung cancer at Riverside Hospital in Kankakee on June 27, 2011. Ryan's brother, Tom, was a prominent political figure in Kankakee County. [9] In addition, Ryan's sister Kathleen Dean's former son-in-law, Bruce Clark, is the Kankakee County, Illinois Clerk. [19]

Lung cancer cancer in the lung

Lung cancer, also known as lung carcinoma, is a malignant lung tumor characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. This growth can spread beyond the lung by the process of metastasis into nearby tissue or other parts of the body. Most cancers that start in the lung, known as primary lung cancers, are carcinomas. The two main types are small-cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) and non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC). The most common symptoms are coughing, weight loss, shortness of breath, and chest pains.

Political career

Ryan began his political career by serving on the Kankakee County Board from 1968 to 1973 (his brother Tom J. Ryan was Mayor of Kankakee for 20 years from 1965 to 1985). He was then elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served from 1973 to 1983, including two terms as Minority Leader and one term as Speaker. He then spent 20 years in statewide office, as Lieutenant Governor under Governor James R. Thompson (1983–91), Secretary of State from 1991 to 1999, and as governor from 1999 to 2003. During his first term as Secretary of State, then–State Treasurer Pat Quinn was publicly critical of Ryan. Specifically, he drew attention to special vanity license plates that Ryan's office provided for clout-heavy motorists. This rivalry led Quinn in a failed bid to challenge Ryan in the 1994 general election for Secretary of State. [20] [21]

Illinois House of Representatives lower house of the Illinois General Assembly

The Illinois House of Representatives is the lower house of the Illinois General Assembly, the bicameral legislature of the U.S. state of Illinois. The body was created by the first Illinois Constitution adopted in 1818. The House consists of 118 representatives elected from individual legislative districts for two-year terms with no limits; redistricted every 10 years, based on the 2010 U.S. census each representative represents approximately 108,734 people.

Lieutenant Governor of Illinois

The Lieutenant Governor of Illinois is the second highest executive of the State of Illinois. In Illinois, the lieutenant governor and governor run on a joint ticket, and are directly elected by popular vote. Candidates for lieutenant governor ran separately in the primary from candidates for governor until 2014, when the system was changed to allow the gubernatorial nominee of a party to select the nominee for lieutenant governor. When the Governor of Illinois becomes unable to discharge the duties of that office, the lieutenant governor becomes acting governor. If the Governor dies, resigns or is removed from office, the lieutenant governor becomes governor. Under the Illinois Constitution, the Attorney General is next in line of succession to the Governor's office after the lieutenant governor, but does not succeed to the Lieutenant Governor's office. From the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich in 2009 until the inauguration of Sheila Simon in 2011, Attorney General Lisa Madigan would have become Governor if Pat Quinn had vacated the office. Historically, the lieutenant governor has been from either the Democratic Party or Republican Party. The current lieutenant governor is Democrat Juliana Stratton.

James R. Thompson American politician

James Robert Thompson Jr., also known as Big Jim Thompson, was the 37th and longest-serving governor of the US state of Illinois, serving from 1977 to 1991. A Republican, Thompson was elected to four consecutive terms and held the office for 14 years. Many years after leaving public office, he served as a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Term as governor

Ryan was elected Governor in 1998, defeating his opponent, Glenn Poshard, by a 51–47% margin. Ryan's running mate was first-term state representative Corinne Wood. Ryan outspent Poshard by a 4-to-1 margin. Poshard, a firm believer in campaign finance reform, placed limits on individual donations and refused to accept donations from corporate or special interests.

One of Ryan's pet projects as governor was an extensive repair of the Illinois Highway System called "Illinois FIRST". FIRST was an acronym for "Fund for Infrastructure, Roads, Schools, and Transit". Signed into law in May 1999, the law created a $6.3 billion package for use in school and transportation projects. With various matching funds programs, Illinois FIRST provided $2.2 billion for schools, $4.1 billion for public transportation, another $4.1 billion for roads, and $1.6 billion for other projects. He also improved Illinois's technology infrastructure, creating one of the first cabinet-level Offices of Technology in the country and bringing up Illinois's technology ranking in a national magazine from 48th out of the 50 states when he took office to 1st just two years later. Ryan committed record funding to education, including 51% of all new state revenues during his time in office, in addition to the billions spent through Illinois FIRST that built and improved schools and education infrastructure. In 1999, Ryan sparked controversy by becoming the first sitting U.S. Governor to meet with Cuban President Fidel Castro. Ryan's visit led to a $1 million donation of humanitarian aid, but drew criticism from anti-Castro groups. [22] In 2000, Ryan served as a chair of the Midwestern Governors Association.

Capital punishment

Ryan helped to renew the national debate on capital punishment when, as governor, he declared a moratorium on his state's death penalty in 2000. [23] This decision was heavily influenced by lawsuits filed by exonerated prisoners who made false confessions as a result of police torture under the direction of a police commander named Jon Burge. [24] "We have now freed more people than we have put to death under our system," he said. "There is a flaw in the system, without question, and it needs to be studied." [25] At the time, Illinois had executed 12 people since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977, with one execution, that of Ripper Crew member Andrew Kokoraleis, occurring early during Ryan's term. Ryan refused to meet with religious leaders and others regarding "a stay of execution" in light of the impending 'moratorium' and other facts relative to the 'flawed' capital punishment system in Illinois; in fact, under Ryan's governorship, 13 people were released from jail after appealing their convictions based on new evidence. Ryan called for a commission to study the issue, while noting, "I still believe the death penalty is a proper response to heinous crimes ... But I believe that it has to be where we don't put innocent people to death." [26]

The issue had garnered the attention of the public when a death row inmate, Anthony Porter, who had spent 15 years on death row, was within two days of being executed when his lawyers won a stay on the grounds that he may have been mentally disabled. He was ultimately exonerated with the help of a group of student journalists at Northwestern University who had uncovered evidence that was used to prove his innocence. In 1999, Porter was released, charges were subsequently dropped, and another person, Alstory Simon, confessed and pleaded guilty to the crime of which Porter had been erroneously convicted. Simon himself was later released after serving fifteen years for the crime, after it was proven that he, too, was wrongfully accused. [27]

On January 11, 2003, just two days before leaving office, Ryan commuted (to "life" terms) the sentences of everyone on or waiting to be sent to Illinois' death row—a total of 167 convicts—due to his belief that the death penalty could not be administered fairly. He also pardoned four inmates, Aaron Patterson, Madison Hobley and Leroy Orange (all of whom were interrogated by Burge and released), and Stanley Howard. However, Patterson is currently serving 30 years in prison after being arrested for drug trafficking he committed after his release from death row. Howard remains in prison for armed robbery. [28] Ryan declared in his pardon speech that he would have freed Howard if only his attorney had filed a clemency petition; Ryan then strongly urged investigators to examine Howard's alleged robbery case, because it appeared to be as tainted as his murder conviction. [29]

These were four of ten death row inmates known as the "Death Row 10," due to widely reported claims that the confessions that they had given in their respective cases had been coerced through torture. Ryan is not the first state governor to have granted blanket commutations to death row inmates during his final days in office. Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller also commuted the sentence of every death row inmate in that state as he left office after losing his 1970 bid for a third two-year term, as did New Mexico Governor Toney Anaya before he left office in 1986 and Ohio Governor Dick Celeste before he left office in 1990. Ryan won praise from death penalty opponents: as early as 2001, he received the Mario Cuomo Act of Courage Award from Death Penalty Focus, in 2003 the Rose Elizabeth Bird Commitment to Justice Award from the same organization, and in 2005 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. On the other side of the Atlantic, Robert Badinter, who had successfully introduced the bill abolishing the death penalty in France in 1981 praised the decision of George Ryan. [30] Many conservatives, though, were opposed to the commutations, some questioning his motives, which came as a federal corruption investigation closed in on the governor and his closest political allies (see below). Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan called Ryan "pathetic", and suggested the governor was attempting to save his public image in hopes of avoiding prison himself. Buchanan noted "Ryan announced his decision to a wildly cheering crowd at the Northwestern University Law School. Families of the victims of the soon-to-be-reprieved killers were not invited." [31]

Scandals, trial, and conviction

Ryan's political career was marred by a scandal called "Operation Safe Road," which involved the illegal sale of government licenses, contracts and leases by state employees during his prior service as Secretary of State. In the wake of numerous convictions of his former aides, he chose not to run for reelection in 2002. Seventy-nine former state officials, lobbyists, and others were charged in the investigation, and at least 76 were convicted.

The corruption scandal leading to Ryan's downfall began more than a decade earlier during a federal investigation into a deadly crash in Wisconsin. Six children from the Willis family of Chicago, Illinois, were killed; their parents, Rev. Duane and Janet Willis, were severely burned. [32] The investigation revealed a scheme inside Ryan's Secretary of State's office in which unqualified truck drivers obtained licenses through bribes.

In March 2003, Scott Fawell, Ryan's former chief of staff and campaign manager, was convicted on federal charges of racketeering and fraud. He was sentenced to six years and six months. [33]

Former deputy campaign manager Richard Juliano pleaded guilty to related charges and testified against Fawell at trial. Roger Stanley, a former Republican state representative who was hired by Ryan and testified against Fawell, pleaded guilty to wide-ranging corruption, admitting he paid kickbacks to win state contracts and campaign business, secretly mailed out vicious false attacks on political opponents and helped obtain ghost-payrolling jobs. [34]


The investigation finally reached the former governor, and in December 2003, Ryan and lobbyist Lawrence Warner were named in a 22-count federal indictment. The charges included racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax fraud. The indictment alleged that Ryan steered several state contracts to Warner and other friends; disbursed campaign funds to relatives and to pay personal expenses; and obstructed justice by attempting to end the state investigation of the license-for-bribes scandal. He was charged with lying to investigators and accepting cash, gifts and loans in return for his official actions as governor. In late 2005, the case went to trial. [35]

Fawell, under pressure from prosecutors, became a key witness against Ryan and Warner. He agreed to a plea deal that cut the prison time for himself and his fiancée, Andrea Coutretsis. Fawell was a controversial witness, not hiding his disdain for prosecutors from the witness stand. According to CBS Chicago political editor Mike Flannery, insiders claimed that Fawell had been "much like a son" to Ryan throughout their careers. At Ryan's trial, Fawell acknowledged that the prosecution had his "head in a vise", and that he found his cooperation with the government against Ryan "the most distasteful thing I've ever done". [33] Nonetheless, he spent several days on the witness stand testifying against Ryan and Warner. Once a tough-talking political strategist, Fawell wept on the witness stand as he acknowledged that his motivation for testifying was to spare Coutretsis a long prison sentence for her role in the conspiracy. The jury was twice sent out of the courtroom so that he could wipe tears from his eyes and regain his composure.

Ryan's daughters and a son-in-law, Michael Fairman, were implicated by testimony during the trial. Stipulations agreed upon by the defense and prosecution and submitted to the court included admissions that all five of Ryan's daughters received illegal payments from the Ryan campaign. In addition to Lynda Fairman, who received funds beyond those her husband Michael testified he had received, the stipulations included admissions from the rest of Ryan's daughters that they did little or no work in return for the payments. [36] [37] In addition, Fawell testified that Ryan's mother's housekeeper was illegally paid from campaign funds, and that Ryan's adopted sister, Nancy Ferguson, also received campaign funds without performing campaign work. [13] [36] The prosecution took nearly four months to present their case, as a parade of other witnesses (including Juliano) followed Fawell.

On April 17, 2006, the jury found Ryan and Warner guilty on all counts. [38] However, when ruling on post-trial motions, the judge dismissed two counts against Ryan for lack of proof. [39] Ryan said that he would appeal the verdict, largely due to the issues with the jury.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor, noted, "Mr. Ryan steered contracts worth millions of dollars to friends and took payments and vacations in return. When he was a sitting governor, he lied to the FBI about this conduct and then he went out and did it again." He charged that one of the most egregious aspects of the corruption was Ryan's action after learning that bribes were being paid for licenses. Instead of ending the practice he tried to end the investigation that had uncovered it, Fitzgerald said, calling the moment "a low-water mark for public service". [40] Ryan became one of four Illinois governors since 1968 to be convicted of white-collar crimes, following Otto Kerner, Jr. and Dan Walker and followed by Rod Blagojevich.

On September 6, 2006, Ryan was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. [41] He was ordered to go to prison on January 4, 2007, but the appellate court granted an appeal bond, allowing him to remain free pending the outcome of the appeal. [42] His conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit on August 21, 2007, [43] and review by the entire Seventh Circuit was denied on October 25, 2007. [44] The Seventh Circuit then rejected Ryan's bid to remain free while he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case; the opinion [45] called the evidence of Ryan's guilt "overwhelming". [46] The Supreme Court rejected an extension of his bail, and Ryan reported to the Federal Prison Camp in Oxford, Wisconsin, on November 7, 2007. [47] [48] He was transferred on February 29, 2008, to a medium security facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, after Oxford changed its level of medical care and stopped housing inmates over 70 years old. [49] He was listed as Federal Inmate Number 16627-424 and was released on July 3, 2013. [50]

Defense and appeal

Ryan's defense was provided pro bono by Winston & Strawn, a law firm managed by former governor Jim Thompson. The defense cost the firm $10 million through mid-November 2005. [51] Estimates of the cost to the firm as of September 2006 ranged as high as $20 million. Ryan served as Thompson's lieutenant governor from 1983 to 1991. After the United States Supreme Court declined to hear Ryan's appeal, Thompson indicated that he would ask then President George W. Bush to commute Ryan's sentence to time served. [52] United States Senator Dick Durbin wrote a letter to Bush dated December 1, 2008, asking him to commute Ryan's sentence, citing Ryan's age and his wife's frail health, saying, "This action would not pardon him of his crimes or remove the record of his conviction, but it would allow him to return to his wife and family for their remaining years." [53] Bush did not commute Ryan's sentence.

After his conviction Ryan's annual $197,037 state pension was suspended under state law. Ryan's attorneys litigated the pension matter all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which ruled on February 19, 2010, that state law "plainly mandates that none of the benefits provided for under the system shall be paid to Ryan". [54] Ryan was paid $635,000 in pension benefits during the three years between his retirement and his political corruption conviction, plus a refund of the $235,500 in personal contributions he made during his 30 years in public office. [55] [56]


In 2010, Ryan requested early release, partly because his wife had terminal cancer and was given only six months to live, and partly on the grounds that some of his convictions should be vacated in light of a Supreme Court ruling that was alleged to have affected their legitimacy. On December 21, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer denied Ryan's request. Pallmeyer said she knew it would be very unpleasant for Ryan to be separated from his wife, and not released until long after his wife's death, but noted that the decision to convict and to sentence, depriving an individual of liberty or life, is never taken lightly, and that there were many more cases where the defendant or incarcerated convict was in an equally serious or more serious position.[ citation needed ]

On January 5, 2011, Ryan was taken from his prison cell in Terre Haute, Indiana, to a hospital in Kankakee so that he could visit his terminally ill wife. [57] Ryan was present when she died five months after that visit. [5] Ryan was released to a Salvation Army halfway house in Chicago on January 30, 2013. Less than three hours later, he was released back to his home in Kankakee on home confinement. [58] Ryan was released on July 3, 2013, a day earlier than originally planned. [59]

Electoral history

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Political offices
Preceded by
William A. Redmond
Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives
January 14, 1981 – January 10, 1983
Succeeded by
Arthur A. Telcser
Preceded by
Dave O'Neal
Lieutenant Governor of Illinois
January 10, 1983 – January 14, 1991
Succeeded by
Bob Kustra
Preceded by
Jim Edgar
Illinois Secretary of State
January 14, 1991 – January 11, 1999
Succeeded by
Jesse White
Governor of Illinois
January 11, 1999 – January 13, 2003
Succeeded by
Rod Blagojevich
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jim Edgar
Republican Party nominee for Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Jim Ryan