Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ryan to remain behind bars

By Jamey Dunn

Former Gov. George Ryan lost his most recent bid for freedom despite pleas on his behalf from public figures and his ill wife.

Ryan’s case for throwing out some of his corruption convictions was based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that narrowed a category of fraud that requires public officials to provide "honest services" to the public and business executives to do the same for their shareholders.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling was made on the case of Enron Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said that the Skilling ruling was based on a claim that the law was vague. However, she wrote in her ruling that Ryan knew his actions were illegal:

Ryan’s current challenge does not rest on vagueness grounds, and the court believes that, in the language of Skilling, Ryan clearly understood “what conduct was prohibited” and could not have been surprised that he was subject to prosecution. Ryan’s efforts to conceal his conduct from public scrutiny themselves demonstrate he knew it was improper. Indeed, long before George Ryan and his associates wrote this chapter in Illinois’s distressing history of public corruption, one of Ryan’s predecessors as Governor, Otto Kerner, was prosecuted under this same theory by an earlier United States Attorney.

According to Pallmeyer's ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling limited prosecutions under the honest services law to “bribery and kickback schemes — the very theory of prosecution under which Ryan was convicted.”

Ryan’s lawyers also argued that instructions given to the jurors in his case violated the new interpretation of the law. Pallmeyer agreed on two of the directions but found the instructions to be “harmless.”

Ryan’s lawyers say the former governor’s wife, Lura Lynn Ryan, who has been diagnosed with cancer, may only have three to six months to live. Pallmeyer’s ruling alluded to calls from Lura Lynn and public figures, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, to allow Ryan to come home to his family:

This court takes no pleasure in depriving any defendant of his or her liberty. The court has had the painful duty to take such action in circumstances more compelling than these — where a young defendant with little education or resources is the sole support of small children, or is the only caregiver for a disabled relative, for example. Any sensitive judge realizes that a lengthy prison term effectively robs the convicted person of what we all value most: months and years with loved ones, some of whom will no longer be there when the sentence has been served. Mr. Ryan, like other convicted persons, undoubtedly wishes it were otherwise. His conduct has exacted a stiff penalty not only for himself but also for his family.

Ryan is serving a 6 1/2-year sentence in a federal prison at Terre Haute, Ind., where he has been since November 2007. His lawyers plan to appeal Pallmeyer's ruling.

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