George Ryan

George Ryan
George Ryan, Sr.
39th Governor of Illinois
In office
January 11, 1999 – January 13, 2003
Lieutenant Corinne Wood
Preceded by Jim Edgar
Succeeded by Rod Blagojevich
36th Illinois Secretary of State
In office
January 14, 1991 – January 11, 1999
Governor Jim 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
Personal details
Born February 24, 1934 (1934-02-24) (age 77)
Maquoketa, Iowa
Nationality  United States
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Lura Lynn Lowe (June 10, 1956 – her death June 28, 2011)
Children Nancy
triplets Julie, Joanne, Jeanette
George Ryan, Jr
Residence Federal Correctional Institution, Terre Haute
Alma mater Ferris State College, Bachelor of Pharmacy 1961
Profession Pharmacist and businessman
Parents Thomas J. and Jeanette (Bowman) Ryan

George Homer Ryan, Sr. (born February 24, 1934, in Maquoketa, Iowa) was the 39th Governor of the U.S. state of Illinois from 1999 until 2003. He is a member of the Republican Party. Ryan became nationally known when in 2000 he imposed a moratorium on executions and "raised the national debate on capital punishment".[5] He is currently serving a prison sentence and is the first of two consecutive Illinois governors to be convicted on federal corruption charges.


Early life

Ryan grew up in Kankakee County, Illinois. After serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, he worked for his father's two drugstores.[6] 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 was sold in 1990.[6][7]

Ryan was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1954. He served a 13 month tour in Korea, working in a base pharmacy.[8]

On June 10, 1956, Ryan married his high school sweetheart, the former Lura Lynn Lowe (July 5, 1934 - June 27, 2011). They have five daughters (including a set of triplets);[7] Julie, Joanne, Jeanette, Lynda and Nancy;[9][10] and one son, "Homer" (George Homer Ryan, Jr.)[11][12][13][14]

Lura Lowe met George Ryan in a high school English class. She was reared in the Kankakee County village of 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.[15] She died of cancer at Riverside Hospital in Kankakee on June 28, 2011.

Ryan's brother Tom has also been a significant political figure in Kankakee County.[6] In addition, Ryan's sister Kathleen Dean's former son-in-law, Bruce Clark, is the Kankakee County Clerk.[16]

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 1965–1985). 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 (1983–1991), Secretary of State from 1991 to 1999, and as Governor from 1999 to 2003. During his first term as Secretary of State, the State Treasurer (and current Governor of Illinois) 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 to challenge Ryan in the 1994 general election for Secretary of State, unsuccessfully.[17][18]

Term as Governor

Ryan was elected Governor in 1998, defeating his opponent, Glenn Poshard, by a 51%–47% margin. Ryan's running mate was Corinne Wood.

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.[19]

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.[20] "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."[21] 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."[22]

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.

Ultimately, 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 (who were 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.[23] Ryan declared in his pardon speech that he would’ve 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.[24]

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 police 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.

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. 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 that 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."[25]

Scandals, trial, and conviction

Ryan's political career was marred by a scandal involving 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 former aides, he chose not to run for reelection in 2002. All told, seventy-nine former state officials, lobbyists, and others have been since charged in the investigation, and at least 76 have been convicted.

The corruption scandal that led to Ryan's downfall began over a decade earlier as a federal investigation into a deadly crash in Wisconsin that killed six children of Rev. Duane "Scott" Willis and his wife, Janet. The investigation revealed a scheme inside Ryan's secretary of state's office in which unqualified truck drivers obtained licenses through bribes. As the AP wrote: "The probe expanded over the next eight years into a wide-ranging corruption investigation that eventually reached Ryan in the governor's office."

In March 2003, Scott Fawell, Ryan's former chief of staff and campaign manager, was convicted along with Ryan's campaign fund on federal charges of racketeering and fraud. Former deputy campaign manager Richard Juliano pled guilty to related charges and testified against Fawell at trial. 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.

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 fiancee, 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 the former governor 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".[26] Nonetheless, he spent several days on the witness stand testifying against Ryan and Warner. Fawell, once a tough-talking political strategist, 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 Fawell 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 fund. In addition to Lynda Fairman, who received funds herself beyond those her husband Michael testified he had received, the stipulations also included admissions from the rest of Ryan's daughters that they did little or no work in return for payments from their father's campaign funds.[27][28] 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.[9][27] The prosecution took nearly four months to present their case, as a parade of other witnesses (including Juliano) followed Fawell. Two of the original jurors were dismissed after it was revealed they had lied on their juror questionnaires. They falsely claimed having never faced criminal charges, causing the jury to be impaneled with alternate jurors.

On April 17, 2006, the jury found Ryan and Warner guilty on all counts.[29] However, when ruling on post-trial motions, the judge dismissed two counts of the convictions against Ryan for lack of proof.[30] 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 F.B.I. 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."[31] Ryan became the third 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.

In his monthly news summary on April 30, 2006, columnist Bill Flick of the Bloomington, Illinois newspaper The Pantagraph remarked, "Instead of selling license plates, [Ryan] gets to make them."[citation needed]

On September 6, 2006, he was sentenced to serve six and a half years in prison.[32] Ryan 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.[33] His conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit on August 21, 2007,[34] and review by the entire Seventh Circuit was denied on October 25, 2007.[35] 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[36] called the evidence of Ryan's guilt "overwhelming."[37] The Supreme Court rejected an extension of his bail, and Ryan reported to the Federal Prison Camp in Oxford, Wisconsin, on November 7, 2007.[38][39] 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.[40] He is listed as Federal Inmate Number 16627-424, and is scheduled for release on July 4, 2013.[41]

Ryan's defense has been 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.[42] 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.[43] 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."[44] Bush did not pardon Ryan before the end of his term on January 20, 2009.

After his conviction Ryan's $197,037 per year state pension was suspended under state law. Ryan’s attorneys litigated the pension matter all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court who ruled February 19, 2010 that state law "plainly mandates that none of the benefits provided for under the system shall be paid to Ryan."[45] 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.[46] [47]

In 2010, Ryan requested early release partly on the grounds that his wife had terminal cancer, and was given only six months to live, and partly based on a request that some of the charges of which he had been found guilty and sentenced should be vacated in light of a Supreme Court ruling that was alleged to have affected the legitimacy of those convictions by the prosecution. On December 21, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer denied Governor Ryan's request. Judge Pallmeyer was sympathetic to Governor Ryan's plight, saying she knew it would be very unpleasant for Governor Ryan to be separated from his wife, and not released until long after his wife's death. However, the judge 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 is facing an equally serious or more serious position (e.g., a poor single mother providing alone for a large number of young children, or a poor individual caring alone for elderly parents).[48]

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.[49] Ryan was present when Mrs. Ryan died five months after that visit.[4]

Electoral history

  • 1998 - Illinois Governor
    • George Ryan (R) 51%
    • Glenn Poshard (D) 47.5%
    • Lawrence Redmond (Reform) 1.5%
  • 1994 - Illinois Secretary of State
  • 1990 - Illinois Secretary of State
    • George Ryan (R) 53.5%
    • Jerry Cosentino (D) 46.5%


  1. ^ "George Ryan" (fee, Fairfax County Public Library). Biography in Context. Detroit: Gale. 1999. Gale Document Number: GALE|K1650000189. Retrieved June 27, 2011.  Gale Biography In Context.
  2. ^ "George Homer Ryan" (fee, Fairfax County Public Library). The Complete Marquis Who's Who. Marquis Who's Who. 2010. Gale Document Number: GALE|K2013022832. Retrieved June 27, 2011.  Gale Biography In Context
  3. ^ Roberts, Roxanne; Argetsinger, Amy (June 29, 2011). "The Reliable Source: From the mansion to the Big House". Washington Post: p. C2. Retrieved June 29, 2011. "Ryan was recently released temporarily to be with his terminally ill wife, who died of lung cancer Monday" 
  4. ^ a b Schlikerman, Becky; Annie Sweeney, Rick Pearson, Ray Long (June 28, 2011). "George Ryan, released from prison, at wife's side when she died". Chicago Tribune.,0,6833851.story. Retrieved June 29, 2011. 
  5. ^ "'Blanket commutation' empties Illinois death row". January 13, 2003. [dead link]
  6. ^ a b c Arden, Patrick (January 16, 2003). "The redemption of Gov. Ryan". Salon magazine online. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b "The Nobel Peace Prize For Governor George H. Ryan of Illinois". Stop Capital Punishment Now!. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  8. ^ Goudie, Chuck (November 12, 2007). "On Veterans Day, George Ryan again is taking orders". Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL: Paddock Publications, Inc). Retrieved June 29, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "Fawell: Ryan's family, friends got cash". Chicago Sun-Times. October 7, 2005. Retrieved September 6, 2006. 
  10. ^ "Family Members on Payroll". Chicago Tribune. January 19, 2006.,1,1462202.story?coll=chi-news-hed. Retrieved September 6, 2006. 
  11. ^ "Cast of characters stars in drama made in Illinois". Chicago Tribune. September 29, 2005.,1,3423703.story?coll=chi-news-hed. Retrieved September 6, 2006. 
  12. ^ "Ryan Guilty". Chicago Sun-Times. April 17, 2006. Retrieved September 6, 2006. 
  13. ^ "Michael Sneed's lunch with George Ryan". Chicago Sun-Times. April 18, 2006. Retrieved September 6, 2006. 
  14. ^ Korecki, Natasha; McKINNEY, DAVE; JANSSEN, KIM (June 29, 2011). "Lura Lynn dies with husband, ex-Gov. George Ryan, at her side". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved June 29, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Lura Lynn Lowe Ryan". 
  16. ^ "Lobbyist's Ex-Girlfriend Tells of Ryan Junkets". Chicago Sun-Times. January 10, 2006. Retrieved September 6, 2006. 
  17. ^ Hawthorne, Michael (December 10, 2008). "Pat Quinn waiting in the wings". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 30, 2009. 
  18. ^ "Biographical information on Quinn". Associated Press. WTOP. January 29, 2009. Retrieved January 30, 2009. 
  19. ^ "US governor on Cuba mission". BBC News. October 24, 1999. 
  20. ^ Johnson, Dirk (May 21, 2000). "No Executions in Illinois Until System Is Repaired". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2009. 
  21. ^ "A Chilling Look at the Death Penalty". Washington Post. July 26, 2004. 
  22. ^ "Campaign 2000: Insurgents Bradley, McCain Target Independents as N.H. Primary Approaches; Bush Expressing High Hopes; Gore Emphasizing High Road". Inside Politics. January 31, 2000. 
  23. ^ Warden, Rob. "Stanley Howard - The Supreme Court found the evidence "overwhelming", but Governor Ryan found otherwise". Chicago: Northwestern School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic, Center on Wrongful Convictions. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Free Stanley Howard". Dolton, IL. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  25. ^ Buchanan, Patrick (January 25, 2003). "Moral Corruption in Illinois". The American Cause. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  26. ^ 'Most distasteful thing I've ever done' nears for Fawell Chicago Tribune, September 28, 2005.
  27. ^ a b Election Funds Went to Relatives Chicago Tribune, October 7, 2005, accessed September 6, 2006.
  28. ^ Korecki, Natasha (January 19, 2006). "Ryan daughter tells of no-work job". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on December 17, 2008.,cst-nws-ryan191.article. Retrieved September 6, 2006. 
  29. ^ Guilty on all charges Chicago Sun Times, April 18, 2006.
  30. ^ "Ryan judge explains why she dismissed 2 charges". Chicago Tribune. September 8, 2006.,1,5062105.story. 
  31. ^ Ex-Governor of Illinois Is Convicted on All Charges New York Times, April 17, 2006, accessed September 6, 2006.
  32. ^ Ryan gets 6½ years in prison Chicago Sun-Times, September 6, 2006, accessed same date.
  33. ^ Federal appeals court says Ryan can stay free on bail Chicago Sun-Times, November 29, 2006, accessed same date.
  34. ^ "Ex-Gov. Ryan's guilty verdict stands despite jury controversy". Chicago Tribune. August 21, 2007.,1,5669537.story. Retrieved August 21, 2007. [dead link]
  35. ^ Higgins, Michael; Coen, Jeff (October 25, 2007). "Ryan loses appeal". Chicago Tribune.,0,5267318.story?coll=chi_breaking_500. 
  36. ^ Case 06-3528 Appeal Opinion: USA v. Ryan, George H.|date=August 21, 2007
  37. ^ Higgins, Michael (November 1, 2007). "Ryan down to last appeal". Chicago Tribune.,0,2632094.story. [dead link]
  38. ^ "U.S. Supreme Court turns down Ryan request to remain free". Chicago Tribune. November 6, 2007.,1,4539.story. 
  39. ^ Conlon, Michael (November 7, 2007). "Former Illinois Governor Ryan enters prison". Reuters. 
  40. ^ Jason Meisner, Ex-Gov. Ryan switches prisons, Chicago Tribune, February 29, 2008.
  41. ^ "Inmate locator: George Ryan". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  42. ^ A Christmas card defense Chicago Tribune, February 3, 2006, accessed September 6, 2006.
  43. ^ Ex-Gov. to Bush: Let Ryan go Chicago Sun-Times, May 28, 2008.
  44. ^ Durbin, Richard J. (December 1, 2008). "Durbin Releases Letter on Commutation for Governor Ryan". Retrieved December 23, 2008. 
  45. ^ Ryan-must forfeit State Pension
  46. ^
  47. ^,0,7450398.htmlpage Illinois Supreme Court Opinion
  48. ^
  49. ^ Chicago Sun-Times. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Dave O'Neal
Lieutenant Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Bob Kustra
Preceded by
Jim Edgar
Illinois Secretary of State
Succeeded by
Jesse White
Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Rod Blagojevich
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jim Edgar
Republican Party nominee for Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Jim Ryan

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