Scandal 32: George Ryan
In the year leading up to the two thousand election we're counting down the biggest scandals in American political history. This is number thirty to the story of disgraced former governor of Illinois George Ryan Ricardo. Guzman was not supposed to be driving on the morning of November Eighth Nineteen Ninety Four. Not In this truck. Anyway as he powered his eighteen wheeler along I ninety four outside of Milwaukee other truckers bombarded his radio warning him that the metal housing on his tail. Light Assembly was broken but Guzman couldn't understand them. He barely spoke English even though he'd somehow passed the written English test for his driver's license right behind Guzman's truck Scott Willis was driving his wife and six children in the family. Van Watching the rickety tail light with caution when the light finally fell onto the road. There was nothing Scott could do. The light tore through the vans. Gas Tank causing a fiery explosion. Scott and Janet Willis were able to escape the blaze but their six children. Were not so lucky that same day. Right across the State Border George Ryan was reelected as the Illinois Secretary of State amidst the celebrations. The horrific road accident hundreds of miles from the Illinois capital would have been the farthest thing from his mind and no one could have imagined that nearly a decade later. The tragic fate of the Willis children would come back to haunt him. Their deaths would symbolize the consequences of George Ryan's years of corruption. Welcome TO POLITICAL SCANDALS. Park cast original. I'm Richard and hake. You can find all episodes of political scandals and all other podcast originals for free on spotify over ever you listen to podcasts to stream political scandals for free on spotify just open the APP and type political scandals in the search bar at par cast. We are grateful for you our listeners. You allow us to do but we love. Let us know how we're doing reach out on facebook and Instagram at podcast and twitter at podcast network Illinois politics had a reputation long before George Ryan arrived. The state was known as the home of corrupt politicians beginning with the bribery scandals of Chicago Alderman in the eighteen hundreds and continuing through the nineteen hundreds with the rise of Al Capone and the Chicago outfit. Perhaps it was fate that George Ryan ended up there in nineteen thirty five. He moved to the state as a child. I to Chicago then to the suburb of kankakee sixty miles south of the city. This second move would remain highly symbolic for Ryan throughout his political career. He wasn't one of the Slick Chicago. Guys you'd read about in the news extorting and bribing. Their way to the top Ryan was different. He was humble. He knew his neighbors the fact that he took over his family business. A pair of pharmacies helped craft this image to he was a family man. He didn't get into politics for power or money just as a bit of a side. Gig to help him give back to his community. The image served Ryan well when he first ran for the KANKAKEE. County board in Nineteen Sixty eight. He won the election easily and held his position until nineteen. Seventy two. By Ryan's political trajectory was not about to stop their Illinois was leaning conservative. An affable Republican like Ryan with his booming voice and tendency to chew a cigar was a big hit across the state not just in Kankakee by nineteen seventy-three he was elected to the state legislature. Where he served as the house. Republican leader Ryan was happy in his role is job too hard. He still had time to run the pharmacy business he inherited from his father and when he became speaker of the House in Nineteen Eighty One. He had plenty of political control. Ryan wants explained. I even control the drapes in the House Chamber. But even if Ryan's ambitions were inset particularly high people further up on the political ladder. We're taking note of his affable neighborly image and they liked what they saw people including Illinois governor. James R Thompson Thomson or Jim as he liked to be called saw Ryan for the political powerhouse. He was meant to be and Ryan would fit in well. With Thompson's plans to build infrastructure downstate plans that required a jovial good natured. Smooth talker like him. So Thomson took Ryan under his wing and with Thomson Support Ryan Ran for Lieutenant Governor. And he won one of Ryan's first projects as lieutenant. Governor was at two point. Three Billion Dollar Public Works Initiative known as Build Illinois it involved entering small poor Illinois communities identifying badly needed public projects and making them a reality Ryan was perfect for the job. He spoke to the every man better than anyone else. In Thomson's Administration Thomson's faith was justified. The project was hugely successful and received praise from both politicians and the public. The tax payer of course would foot the bill but the end result was better parks schools and increased funding for outreach organizations but Ryan was ensuring taxpayer dollars were going towards other crucial state needs as well. It's not unusual for government officials to require security details even at the state level but Ryan and his wife. Laura took it to an extreme when vacationing and the couple took many vacations over the years due to the stress of raising their six children. The Ryan's requested that multiple state troopers. Take them to the airport. They were useful for handling luggage after all. Not The typical duty of a state employee but Ryan was doing so much to help the less fortunate in his State. Shouldn't he enjoy a few innocent perks? Ryan took the same approach when it came to ask in corporate executives for favors one incident involved Ryan approaching an executive at a conference and asking for a ride back to Kankakee on a jet. And did they happen to have room for his security detail? Oh and of course Laura to to Ryan. This wasn't asking anything outrageous after all. He was helping corporations out just as much as he was helping. The states less fortunate residents in fact Ryan worked with the governor on rebuilding the decrepit home of the Chicago. White Sox Comiskey Park. The revamped and expanded park was attractive to corporate sponsors giving them a new space for advertising sure. The taxpayer footed the bill for the project but Ryan was the one who sent the money their way. So why couldn't he asked for a ride on a corporate jet? This politics career was just fabulous. He was coming to realize. Perhaps it was time to take a cue from Governor Thompson and devote himself to it full time by nineteen ninety. He sold his chain of pharmacies garnering nice payout and freeing up all his energy to work for the state. This wasn't exactly what Governor Thompson had in mind he wanted Ryan to stay on as Lieutenant Governor. If Ryan's ambitions got too big for his Britches Thompson would have to find someone else and who knew if there was another man as skilled as George Ryan Ryan's ability to wheel and deal was proving invaluable but Ryan was ready to test his skills in a new position? One with even more opportunities for Nice little extras on the taxpayer's dime he set his sights on Illinois Secretary of State. Of course to win. He'd need a campaign manager and no one would notice if he put the guy on the governor's payroll surely Ryan's illegally funded new campaign manager. Scott farewell was just one member in his growing group of cronies. Many of whom would end up in court in the years to come coming up Ryan and his friends. Corruption grows alongside their power. Now back to the story by Nineteen Ninety Illinois. Lieutenant Governor George Ryan had devoted himself to climbing the state's political ladder as far as he possibly could perhaps even all the way up to the office of governor but the first step was to win the secretary of State election with the help of his campaign manager Scott. Farewell Farewell was fiercely loyal to his candidate in Ryan. Farewell saw his ideal future. He too had aspirations to climb the ranks in Illinois and perhaps even beyond plus they were both boisterous friendly. Good Ole boys. They understood each other with say well at his side Ryan easily won the bid for Secretary of State Ryan was ecstatic and he was grateful to the friends who helped him get here. It seems only fair to offer his closest associates coveted positions in his new administration. Fay will for one stayed on as Ryan's personal adviser Long. After his initial campaign ended his role was nebulous. It was never clear to outsiders exactly what he did but that was the idea because farewells main job was to help Ryan. Finagle little extra money at a state contracts. Another old friend of Ryan's Larry Warner helped with the contract. Rigging Warner was a kindred spirit of Ryan's the two knew each other from Kankakee. He started out with similar political ambitions to Ryan but found working in the private sector much more lucrative as a businessman and lobbyist warner became an invaluable asset to the governor. He knew exactly who needed a big money. Government contract and what they'd be willing to pay up in return to be clear Warner didn't hold an official position on Ryan staff with what he was up to the less paper trail the better. The gift began the moment. Ryan became secretary of State. Most of utilities in Ryan's offices were contracted out to one particular company. For example all their computers were provided by Honeywell. Right after taking office Ryan's Transition Team told Honeywell that the computers were too old and needed to be replaced immediately. Honeywell was more than willing to upgrade the equipment but Warner's stepped in and told them that if they wanted the new contract to be approved. They'd have to hire him on is the company's lobbyists and of course pay his two hundred fifty thousand dollar. Lobbying fee the honeywell representatives balked. They tried to negotiate. But Warner wouldn't play ball. He didn't have to. He'd already offered a similar deal to IBM and they took it. Warner was brought on as IBM's lobbyist with a hefty three point five percent commission on the revenues from any contracts he secured with the Secretary of State's office. The contract in question amounted to twenty six million dollars by the time all was said and done warner received over a million dollars from. Ibm This is only one example of a scheme that would play out over and over again. Throughout Ryan Warner's careers. It was profitable for everyone except of course the state of Illinois rigging contracts wasn't Warner's only game as early as nineteen eighty two. He was involved in another scheme so petty. It's almost hard to wrap your head around. Vanity license plates to the Illinois. Elite having a single digit license plate was the ultimate status symbol. It was rare difficult to obtain an utterly useless. This is a time honored tradition. The license plate number one had been passed around between high profile citizens since nineteen thirty nine despite this silliness or perhaps even because of it people were willing to pay for the lowest number plates available during Ryan's tenure. Many of these special plates ended up on the cars of his closest personal friends or campaign contributors. This vanity plates scheme is not in itself a massive violation of the public's trust but it is symptomatic of a cancer that festered in the States Automotive Licensing System in Illinois even the DMV is corrupt in Illinois. The facilities that issued driver's licenses are operated by the secretary of state and more directly they were overseen by the Inspector General Dean Bauer. Bauer was yet another old friend of Ryan's from Kankakee. The very basic function of his job was to prevent corruption within the State's licensing system. What he actually did was the complete opposite. Bauer went around to the states licensing facilities with envelopes. Full of tickets for Ryan's fundraisers. These tickets often went for hundreds of dollars per head. He made it clear to the facility. Managers that it was their job to sell every single one of these tickets whether they found buyers or simply bought the tickets themselves was of no concern Bauer. All that mattered was that the money came back to him otherwise they might not get that much needed promotion perhaps they even be demoted or transferred to another facility far from home unlike Dean Bauer most of the managers and workers in the Licensing Department. Were underpaid and overworked. They couldn't afford this kind of shakedown so they started looking for creative ways to make up the difference. Luckily there was someone below. Dnv workers on the Totem Pole of power truck drivers specifically recent immigrants who needed their commercial driver's license. The test included both driving portion and a written portion and pass the written portion. You needed a firm grasp of the English language but many of the perspective truckers spoke so little English that when they were told to take a seat in the testing room they simply stood in place. There was no way they pass the test. The licensing managers saw an opportunity. They needed cash to pay for fundraising tickets. These truckers needed licenses. The solution was obvious. Countless truckers secured their licenses through this bribery scheme for the average clerk. The corruption was obvious failed. Tests were being ignored and managers weren't even trying to hide forged documents. Even non-commercial drivers could walk in and by paying a certain fee pass their test or simply skip the line. Bauer knew exactly what was going on. But why should you care? The truckers got their licenses. The managers kept their comfortable government jobs and he got exactly what he wanted. Envelopes of cash some employees had qualms about the situation but with the inspector general in on the scheme. There was no one to complain to. And even if they did go over their bosses head blowing the whistle meant. They'd be out of a job on march ninth. Nineteen ninety-three rumors about the bribery scheme finally reached the proper authorities and a licensing facility in Libertyville was raided by law enforcement the manager. James Quinn panicked. The place was covered in the templates. He'd been using to falsify driver's licenses and he had about thirty thousand dollars worth of unsold fundraising tickets stashed in his desk but Bauer came to the rescue. He was present at the rate. Of course as inspector general it was his job and considering his position he was barely questioned when he left with a briefcase. Full of the unsold tickets and two thousand five hundred dollars in cash. Bauer assured the officials that he would personally entered the items into evidence. That never happened. This negligence would have consequences. The reason why commercial driver's license applicants had to take a written test was to prove they knew enough English to understand traffic signs and emergency messages in November. One thousand nine hundred ninety four a trucker named Ricardo Guzman was driving an eighteen wheeler along the highway. When a piece of his tail light started to fall off. He couldn't understand the warnings from other drivers over his walkie because he didn't speak English. The result was a deadly crash and explosion that killed the six children of the Willis family. When Guzman was questioned. It became obvious that he didn't understand any English. When the Willis family's attorney Joe Power found out about this? He knew something was off if he couldn't speak English. How on Earth did he get his licence? It would be years before he got an answer. In the meantime George Ryan Cycle of corruption bribery and cover. Up was working like a charm. Ryan ran for Governor of Illinois in Nineteen Ninety eight free from worry about any scandal but unlike his previous elections this one wouldn't be so easy his opponent Democrat. Glenn Chard had heard rumors about the backroom deals and suspect contracts and he made a point to bring them up on the campaign trail. Unfortunately for PA- CHARD. The only suspect behavior could prove was the vanity license plate scheme one of Ryan and his cronies mildest offenses. It wasn't enough to Sway Illinois Republicans from the Affable Boisterous Kankakee. Boy If any impropriety was happening at the State Licensing Facilities Surely Ryan was unaware. The shard never had much hope Ryan easily. Made it to the governor's mansion for years. This had been his goal and now here he was just like his old friend. Jim Thomson empowered and determined to do right by the people and by himself. To of course in Ryan's mind a big part of his success was the support he got from his family so it only made sense that he should reward them for their help. One of Ryan's daughters Linda married a man named Michael Faron. Michael was an addict after his second. Dui His license should have been revoked per state law but mysteriously his Dui record was expunged on top of this special treatment. The FAIRMONT's were given cash loans for home repairs. This cash was often funneled through businesses belonging. To Larry Warner Ryan's unofficial adviser aside from cash. The fireman's also attended an all expense. Paid Disney vacation on the taxpayer's dime and the airman's weren't the only ones vacationing Ryan and Laura began taking more and more frequent trips to particular villa in Jamaica owned by Harry Klein. Harry Klein was the owner of several Chicago. Area currency exchanges. Traditional banks often require minimum deposits or monthly fees to maintain a checking account. If you couldn't afford these a currency exchange was happy to cash your paycheck for you for a small one. Time fee. Business for Klein was good but he was looking to make it a little better. He needed Ryan to approve a hike. In the state mandated fees at currency exchanges. Ryan was happy to do so in exchange for a week here and there in Jamaica to avoid a suspicious paper trail Ryan paid climbed by check. Each transaction amounted to the villas standard rental fee. Then Klein Paid Ryan back in cash. It was a nice arrangement. Laura was always a fan of some time. Away and Ryan was happy to pick up the cable bill for the villa but not everything was sunshine and steel drums back in Illinois. An unexpected scandal was about to blow the lid off Governor Ryan's corruption coming up a fed up license clerk spells disaster for Ryan and his cronies and the governor makes an attempt at redemption and now back to the story Illinois Governor George Ryan was living it up on the public's dime in the late Nineteen Ninety S. His trips to Jamaica were becoming more frequent and his family was seeing financial benefit from his new position to but things at one license facility had gotten out of hand. Tammy Sue Raynor's started as a low level clerk at the McCook licensing facility in the early nineties. During her years there she personally witnessed. Just how agreed yes? The pay to play atmosphere had become brazen truckers asked where to direct bribery payments. And she saw more than one driver clip a cone only to receive their license anyway. The environment at McCook as with the other facilities was not friendly to whistle blowing. Rainer brought up her concerns with management. Only to be told that something would be done more than once. She was outright told to. Just keep quiet about the whole thing. Rayner went so far as to speak with the Inspector General himself deemed Bauer and Bauer seemed to take her concerns seriously. Setting up a sting operation in one facility but strangely no charges were filed afterwards but rainer was determined and she figured out exactly what it would take to topple the system among the many illegal licenses. Granted at McCook facility was the commercial driver's license for a cargo guzman the trucker who had caused the deaths of the six Willis children the Willis's lawyer Joe. Power was in the middle of a wrongful death suit against a host of defendants primarily. Trucking companies and parts manufacturers. But when he received a statement from Tammy Rainer he realized there was much more to the story than a faulty tail. Light Rainer Statement Proved. What power had already suspected? Guzman's licence had been granted illegally. As part of a long running bribery scheme and powers was convinced that this corruption ran all the way up to the governor he got in touch with wls TV news in Chicago and leaked the details of rainiers deposition on April Seventh Nineteen Ninety Eight. The station premiered a three hour long interview with Rainer and another former clerk in the office. Tommy Berlin never had the corruption that had come to define Ryan's political career been laid so plane. The general public may have had a hard time grasping the intricacies of check fraud or embezzlement. But they could sure understand. How illegal license resulted in a deadly interstate car crash? The public outrage set the perfect stage for a massive federal investigation into state licensing procedure operations safe road by nineteen ninety nine. The investigation was in full. Swing everyone from Inspector General Dean. Bauer to Ryan's former deputy campaign manager. Richard Juliano was subject to questioning. But as the Laura details came out and the indictments rolled in Ryan was careful to keep quiet when he was questioned by federal authorities in January two thousand. He Stayed Mum on the licensing scam but he made a fatal error when asked about his trips to Jamaica Ryan denied ever paying Harry Klein in connection with his vacations despite the clear paper trail proving that he'd paid to rent clients property in Jamaica. That obvious lie earned him a charge for perjury. This was just one element of the state's case against the corrupt governor. The True Nail in the coffin was testimony from one of his closest associates. Scott Fay Will Ryan's longtime campaign manager and adviser. Federal investigators hounded farewell for months and loyal as always. He kept his mouth shut until they found the one thing that would make him flip despite being married. Farewell well carried on a long term affair with his assistant. Andrea being fails assistant made Andrea Party to all the illegality fable was up to after lying to investigators about what she'd witnessed Andrea was indicted for perjury. And she was liable to serve serious time to spare. Her Fay will agree to testify against Ryan in exchange Andrea received only four months in prison for perjury courtroom sketches from Scott Farewells testimony. Show a man torn apart by grief and guilt proceedings. Were stopped more than once because farewell was too emotional to continue but as the weeks wore on the details came out illegal fundraising destroying evidence vacations to Costa Rica on the public. Dine farewell was eventually convicted of racketeering and fraud and sentenced to six years and six months in federal prison and an indictment for the governor was looming on the horizon as the two thousand two election approached Ryan announced that he would not be seeking reelection within a year. He and his old pal. Gary Warner were named in twenty two count. Federal indictment among the charges were perjury. Racketeering mail fraud and money laundering. These were mafia level charges against an Illinois. Governor Ryan's old mentor and former governor. Jim Thompson recommended him a skilled defense lawyer. But by this point Thomson was one of Ryan's few remaining supporters public opinion had turned firmly against him. Perhaps that's the reason for what happened next Ryan had nothing left lose. Perhaps it was a final desperate attempt to Win Back Public Affection OR VINDICATE HIMSELF OR CHANGE. His legacy regardless of the motive. The action shock the public on January. Thirty First Two Thousand Governor Ryan declared that all capital punishment in Illinois be halted this directive would only last as long as he remained in office so it had limited practical impact but it was a significant gesture. He claimed that his reasoning was that there were countless lawsuits filed by families of the executed claiming that their loved ones were wrongfully accused coerced into a confession or some combination of both unsurprisingly. Ryan's outlook. Put Him at odds with his old conservative supporters. But instead liberals took a shine to the governor suddenly Ryan was fielding calls from the likes of the Pope and Nelson Mandela. He was even nominated. For a Nobel Peace Prize he'd won back the public's love surely that felt good. It was the last moment of Glory. He'd ever have after years of legal proceedings. George Ryan was convicted and sentenced on September. Sixth two thousand six. After a failed appeal he reported to prison in Terre Haute Indiana on February twenty-ninth two thousand eight. He spent five and a half years behind bars and was released in two thousand thirteen at the age of seventy four today. He remains a controversial figure on one hand. His corruption and greed was so extreme it led to the deaths of six innocent children on the other to some anti-death penalty activists the sentences. He commuted saved the lives of more than one hundred sixty people. Perhaps that was his form of Penance of final act of goodwill from one criminal to another such was always the philosophy of George Ryan when Crooks worked together everybody wins thanks for listening. We'll be back next week with the story of Federal Bureau of Prisons Intern. Chandra Levy. Who DISAPPEARED IN TWO THOUSAND ONE. You can find all episodes of political scandals and all other podcast originals for free on spotify. Not only despite if I already have all of your favorite music but now spotify is making it easy for you to enjoy all of your favorite park as two originals for free from your phone desktop or smart speaker to stream political scandals on spotify just open the APP tap browse and tight political scandals in the search bar. We'll see next time. Political scandals was created by Max Cutler and is a podcast studios original it is executive produced by Max Cutler. Sound Design by Mike Rama's with production assistance by Ron Shapiro Carleen Madden and Travis Clark. This episode of political scandals was written by Kate Peruzzi with writing assistance. By Kate. Gallagher and stars Richard Rosner and Kate Leonard.