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Day of reckoning for a corrupt politician



Published: Sat, September 2, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Operation Safe Road has been a huge success in Chicago. It did nothing to stem automobile accidents, driving under the influence or aggravating pot holes. Operation Safe Road had nothing to do with road safety and everything to do with public corruption.

Operation Safe Road culminated with 75 convictions, none bigger than former Gov. George Ryan. He was found guilty of 18 counts of taking bribes in exchange for state contracts and misusing political resources for personal gain. The U.S. Attorney described Ryan's actions as a "low water mark for public service."

This Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer is scheduled to sentence Ryan. Judge Pallmeyer will have a lot to work with on sentencing day.

During his final term in public office, while the target of a federal investigation, Ryan declared a moratorium on the death penalty. Although for most of his 40 years in public life he supported the death penalty, as his term was winding down, and the investigation was heating up, Ryan took the unprecedented action of commuting all of Illinois' death sentences. With little regard to the merit of their individual cases, 167 convicted killers were released from death row. The citizens of Illinois may soon find out how little review Ryan's pardons and commutations received. A federal judge recently ordered Ryan to answer questions about his reasoning.

Ryan left office a hero among the anti-death penalty community. In fact, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Never mind he commuted the sentences of killers like those responsible for the death of Debra Evans. Evans, whose baby was due in four days, was shot and stabbed, her fetus cut from her womb, and her two children murdered because they were witnesses.

At trial Ryan attempted to use his "magnanimous" act of giving life to those who so brutally took the lives of innocent men, women and children. Judge Pall-meyer refused to let Ryan use his work helping murderers as a mitigating factor in his corruption trial. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, she ruled that capital punishment was irrelevant to Ryan's corruption charges. Perhaps Ryan's lawyers should have argued for admissibility based on the fact that the governor's commutations were intended to increase his political capital, and maybe create enough good will among potential jurors to find him not guilty.

Preventable accident

If that's not enough, a portion of Ryan's prosecution was based on the selling of drivers licenses and other state related privileges while Illinois secretary of state. One of those who used a fraudulent commercial driver's license was a man who could not read, write or speak English. While driving a truck, one that he was not qualified to operate, he caused a preventable accident that killed six children from a single family. Thus the name Operation Safe Road.

Ryan has the blood of an entire family on his hands, not to mention the heartache of at least 167 families who lost a loved one to murder. Will the Nobel Committee come calling this year?

Illinois taxpayers have learned through a publicly released statement of a cooperating witness that Ryan had a penchant for the craps table and liked to dole out $50 tips as he strolled through luxury hotels and casinos.

Ryan's high rolling antics came at the hands of his employees while he served as secretary of state. Ryan was the benefactor of a well organized ticket selling scheme requiring nearly every employee in every department to donate to his campaigns. There were a lot of campaigns. Ryan's career spanned 40 years and included election to the legislature where he eventually served as speaker of the House and 20 consecutive years as a statewide office holder with stints as lieutenant governor, secretary of state and ultimately governor.

Ryan's day of reckoning is looming. His age, 73, may be a mitigating factor for sentencing purposes. However, breaching the public trust, using the death penalty to garner political support and flaunting his thievery at the craps table should more than justify a long prison term. Hopefully Judge Pallmeyer will see it that way.

Matthew T. Mangino is the former district attorney of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. He is a featured columnist for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly. He can be reached at matthewmangino@aol.com.




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