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Why George Ryan Won't Be Home for Christmas

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Why George Ryan Won't Be Home for Christmas
Jack Higgins

Not only did Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer deny George Ryan his freedom for Christmas, she made it clear he was a bigger crook than the guy who brought down Enron.

Ryan, who wants to rejoin his terminally ill wife, Lura Lynn, asked to have his sentence vacated because Enron guy Jeffrey Skilling had part of his conviction nullified after the U.S. Supreme Court imposed limits on the “honest services” statute. Ryan was convicted under the same statute.

Sorry, George, but your services were more dishonest than Skilling’s. Skilling misrepresented Enron’s “financial health, thereby artificially inflating its stock price.” That was an “intangible” crime.

“George Ryan, on the other hand, held statewide elected office, and … the conduct for which he was convicted -- steering contracts, leases, and other governmental benefits in exchange for private gain -- was well-recognized before his conviction as conduct that falls into the ‘solid core’ of honest services fraud,” Pallmeyer wrote in her decision.

In other words, graft has always been a crime, even before the passage of the honest services statute.

“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.”

The decision won’t affect Rod Blagojevich, Ryan’s successor as governor and federal defendant, because he was not tried under the honest services statute.

You have to sympathize with Ryan’s desire to see his wife, but you also have to remember that if he’d pleaded guilty in 2003, when he was first charged, he would have served his entire six-and-a-half year sentence by now, and been home in Kankakee. In her decision, Pallmeyer expressed sympathy for the Ryans’ situation, but suggested that she’d already cut the ex-governor one break: “the Ryans’ advanced years and obvious devotion to each other were significant to the court at sentencing and remain so.”

Ryan is a sad, lonely old man. But if he’d thought more about his family when he was governor, he wouldn’t be in prison.

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