Thursday, September 07, 2006

Chicago Sun Times Editorial - Ryan's hard sentence sends message about corruption

Chicago Sun Times Editorial - Ryan's hard sentence sends message about corruption
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
September 7, 2006

We don't take any pleasure in seeing former Gov. George Ryan sentenced to 61/2 years in prison after being convicted on a variety of corruption-related charges. But we think U.S. Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer got the sentence right. Ryan's defense attorneys argued for a much shorter term, highlighting the former governor's age of 72 and his health problems. Prosecutors said justice would be served by a longer sentence. Pallmeyer settled on somewhere in between.

It's probably not a coincidence that the term she picked equals the sentence given to Scott Fawell, his former chief of staff who was convicted of several fraud-related charges at an earlier trial. Prosecutors rightly argued that it would be unfair to sentence the boss to anything less that the underling. But those who think Ryan's sentence should have exceeded Fawell's should remember that Ryan also "has been publicly and universally humiliated" -- as his lawyers put it -- and that he is a much older man who very likely could spend the last years of his life behind bars.

Ryan steadfastly denied breaking the law and until Wednesday had expressed little contrition or regret for his actions. But before he was sentenced he read a statement to Pallmeyer in which he apologized to Illinoisans. "They expected better of me. I let them down," he said. While not a full admission of guilt -- remember, he still is appealing his conviction -- it may have helped Pallmeyer impose a sentence on the low end of that recommended by federal guidelines. He was ordered to prison Jan. 4 but an appeals bond if granted could keep him free even after that, and some experts think the controversy over the trial jury means he has a good chance of an appeals court ordering a new trial.

Ryan's conviction will overshadow a lifetime in politics -- indeed, he could serve a sentence in prison that exceeds the one four-year term he served in the governor's mansion. His reputation as a dealmaker who knew how to work both sides of the aisle will forever be tarnished by his conviction on racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud and other charges.

And the international fame he garnered for his opposition to the death penalty -- he was nominated for a Nobel Prize -- will take a backseat to the infamy of being linked to a deadly 1994 crash. Six children died in an accident involving a truck driver who bribed Ryan's secretary of state's office to get his license, a crash that was a catalyst for the federal probe that brought Ryan down.

Ryan on Wednesday said he was deeply pained at letting the state down. He called it the saddest day of his life. We hope that the tough sentence, and the public shame, will serve as a deterrent for other public officials, so that Illinois doesn't have suffer through any more sad days of its own.


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