To put some context into why George Ryan is in prison we must start at the beginning of the story. This story starts in the state of Wisconsin in 1993. The Willis family was driving down a Wisconsin highway when their car was hit by the truck of Ricardo Guzman. Guzman, an illegal alien, had attained his CDL (the license to drive a truck) illegally in Illinois by paying off an employee of the Secretary of State's office. Willis, and his five siblings, burnt to death and died on that Wisconsin Highway.
The investigation into the death of the six Willis siblings uncovered that the Secretary of State's office, then run by George Ryan (who was Secretary of State of Illinois from 1991-1999), had perpetrated bribes to thousands to illegally obtain CDL licenses in exchange for bribes. The investigation even found that vanity plates for vehicles for sizeable campaign donations. It was a way to mark territory of political influence.
Even though it was clear that at best Ryan was running a corrupt Secretary of State's office, he was eventually, in 1999, rewarded with the top honor in the state and George Ryan became the state's 39th Governor.
In 2002, the scandals that grew out of this tragic death began to engulf the Ryan administration. It caused George Ryan not to seek re election and it turned a purple stated decidedly blue where it stands now. Yet, the problems for George Ryan were only beginning. By this point, a new outside Federal Prosecutor was brought in to serve for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald. Illinois had a history of obscene corruption and that history was aided by those in law enforcement looking the other way. (see the case of Jon Burge as a great example) Fitzgerald was having none of it. By 2003, he had opened up a full investigation into bribes for licenses and other corruption that engulfed the Ryan administration.
The names involved were consummate power players within the State Government of Illinois. The State of Illinois has long been run as a shadow government with power players calling the shots behind the scenes. This case was no different. Names like Scott Fawell, Richard Juliano, and Lawrence Warner emerged as primary players in the corruption. These were names only known to political heavyweights in Springfield, however they carried a lot of influence, and ultimately they got into bed with George Ryan for their own benefit.
Ultimately, Ryan was convicted of 22 charges related to corruption. The charges included racketeering, bribery, and obstruction of justice. Here is how Patrick Fitzgerald described the severity of the charges.
Mr. Ryan steered contracts worth millions of dollars to friends and took payments and vacations in return. When he was a sitting governor, he lied to the F.B.I. about this conduct and then he went out and did it again." He charged that one of the most egregious aspects of the corruption was Ryan's action after learning that bribes were being paid for licenses. Instead of ending the practice he tried to end the investigation that had uncovered it, Fitzgerald said, calling the moment "a low-water mark for public service."
To truly understand the despicable nature of the things Ryan was convicted of, you must imagine six poor children burning to death. Their death was tragic and senseless, but it was also unnecessary. It originated from the very corruption that Ryan was an active participant. It's the very corruption that Fitzgerald points out Ryan attempted to sweep under the rug. Had it not been for Chicago's 21st century Elliot Ness, Patrick Fitzgerald, we may never have known just how widespread the corruption was and how deep Ryan was in it. Those six children need not be dead but they are and they are dead in no small part to the very corruption that George Ryan practiced on a daily basis while Governor. He didn't merely betray the public's trust, but he killed it.
Now, some very powerful forces are attempting to commute his sentence after Ryan has served only about a year and a half. They are forces like Dick Durbin, current U.S. Senator from Illinois, and Jim Thompson, former Governor of Illinois (and Ryan's current lawyer). To allow Ryan's sentence to be commuted is to send the message that in our justice system there are two forms, one for the average joe and one for the powerful. For what George Ryan did, he should never see the light of day, only he will whether his sentence is commuted or not. To allow George Ryan to leave prison after only a year and a half is to spit in the memory of six children who's death was as gruesome as it was tragic. For the crimes that George Ryan was convicted he deserves to spend each and every day of his sentence in prison. To let him out even a day early is to dismiss the death of six innoncent children and the corruption that lead to it.