Scott Fawell Denies Culpability for Willis Family Deaths

"Do I feel any responsibility for it? No I really don't."

By Steve Bryant
|  Saturday, Aug 29, 2009  |  Updated 9:34 PM CDT
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Speaking publicly on the topic for the first time since he was convicted of racketeering and fraud charges, Former Gov. George Ryan's chief of staff today denied responsibility for the most egregious consequence of his office's malfeasance -- that is, the death of the Willis family.

The Willis family's six children were killed in a deadly Wisconsin traffic accident caused by an improperly licensed truck driver. The investigation into the crash revealed a scheme inside Ryan's secretary of state's office in which unqualified truck drivers obtained licenses through bribes.

"I'm sorry it ever happened," Scott Fawell said to NBC's Carol Marin in his first-ever interview on the topic. "But do I feel any responsibility for it? No I really don't."

Fawell, who was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison, was Ryan's chief of staff in the secretary of state's office for eight years, and managed Ryan's successful 1998 campaign for governor.

He pleaded guilty in September 2004 to rigging bids when he was was in charge of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (known as McPier).

The Willis family deaths came to be seen as an emblem of his office's corruption.

During the 25-minute-long interview Fawell blamed the press for misleading the public about his culpability for the Willis deaths.

"People on the street, they believe George Ryan and I are somehow responsible for that tragic accident. And believe me, it is a tragic accident," said Fawell. "Is it a result of corruption? I guess. I don't want to split hairs, but I think in some ways it's more a result of petty graft."

Asked why he decided to speak out now, Fawell said he didn't know.

"I just thought it was time."

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