Former Illinois Gov. George H. Ryan was indicted yesterday on charges of receiving illegal cash payments, gifts, and vacations, and helping his family members obtain almost $167,000 in similar benefits. The funds allegedly came from a Ryan confidant who made illicit profits on state contracts and leases, the Chicago Tribune reports.
In two terms as secretary of state, Ryan allegedly steered contracts and leases to companies that had been extorted for bribes. He was accused of thwarting investigations into his campaign’s improper political fundraising practices and awarding more than 90 low-digit license plates to cronies and campaign contributors. The indictment accuses him of grossly understating his income on four years of federal income tax returns.
Former U.S. Atty. Dan Webb, who is representing Ryan, 69, called the charges “false, unfair, and malicious.” U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald alleged that Ryan, while governor, had repeatedly lied to federal agents about his knowledge of and involvement in wrongdoing. “What we’re alleging in the indictment is that basically the State of Illinois was for sale, for [Ryan’s] friends and family at times,” Fitzgerald said.
Ryan is the biggest catch of the 5 1/2-year federal Operation Safe Road investigation, but Fitzgerald said prosecutors aren’t finished yet. Ryan is the probe’s 66th defendant; 58 defendants and his campaign committee have been convicted. Ryan’s indictment marks the fifth time in a century an Illinois governor has been accused of criminal wrongdoing. Two were acquitted.