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George Ryan loses final bid to stay out of prison

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George Ryan must report to prison on Wednesday (Reuters file photo)

By AP/KWMU

Washington, DC – Former Illinois Governor George Ryan today (Tuesday) lost his final bid to delay starting his prison term when Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens turned down his request to remain free on bail.

Ryan is due to report to the federal correctional center at Oxford, Wis., Wednesday to start serving his six-and-a-half-year racketeering and fraud sentence.

Ryan and his co-defendant Larry Warner have remained free on bond since their April 2006 convictions. Warner was also turned down today.

The two men asked Stevens to grant them bail at least until the nation's high court decides whether to hear their appeal.

Stevens made his decision less than 24 hours after Ryan's lawyers made an urgent plea for bail. The Illinois Republican contends federal officials were wrong to portray his six-month trial as free of any errors requiring reversal.

The 73-year-old is due to report to prison before 5:00 p.m. Wednesday. There's no word yet on when he plans to head to Oxford.

Kankakee, Ill. business owner Heidi Berens, 39, said she has "mixed emotions" about the community's best-known resident going to prison.

"It's high time he owns up to the crooked things he's done, but I look at his face and I see an elderly man, a grandfather-type person and I think it's sad," Berens said.

The one-time pharmacist left his Kankakee home for about an hour Tuesday accompanied by his wife, Lura Lynn, and other family members after family members loaded a number of cardboard boxes into a van. When he returned, he told reporters gathered outside that he would not immediately have a comment.

The minimum-security prison camp at Oxford, about 60 miles north of Madison, is in a mostly rural area with land set aside nearby for waterfowl habitat. The camp, with space for 206 inmates, has four wings, each with 13 rooms that each house four inmates, said Mike Truman, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington.

Ryan's typical work day will begin at 7:30 a.m. and include duties such as mopping floors, cleaning toilets, raking leaves, cutting grass, painting and shoveling snow, Truman said.

Ryan was convicted of steering big-money state contracts to Warner and other friends, using state money and state workers to run his campaigns and killing an investigation of bribes paid for truck driver's licenses.

Ryan's claim that he did not receive a fair trial is based primarily on chaotic jury deliberations. Two jurors were dismissed after it was found they had omitted mention of their police records on a questionnaire.

Ryan and co-defendant Larry Warner, whose request for bail also was turned down by the high court, have remained free on bond since their April 2006 convictions. Both have asked the U.S. Supreme court to reviews their cases and asked Stevens to grant them bail at least until the nation's highest court decides whether to hear their appeal.

Stevens' decision was announced to reporters by a court official around noon, a few minutes after the Supreme Court had adjourned for the day.

The appeals court had affirmed the men's convictions in a 2-1 split decision. Ryan and Warner then asked the appeals court to reconsider and were turned down by a 6-3 vote.

Judge Michael S. Kanne, who sat on the three-judge panel, dissented and said that the trial had been "riddled with errors."

The scandal that wrecked Ryan's political career began on what should have been a good day for him Election Day 1994, when voters gave him a second term as secretary of state.

But that morning, tragedy struck on an expressway outside Milwaukee. A heavy metal part fell off a big semitrailer truck and struck a van, puncturing the gasoline tank and throwing off sparks as it dragged the pavement. The van instantly was engulfed in flames that killed six children of the Rev. Scott and Janet Willis.

State agents who began looking into how the driver got his license were dismissed by Ryan and replaced by inspector general Dean Bauer, a former Kankakee police chief and Ryan family friend. Bauer later pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and told how he spent seven years covering up scandals to spare Ryan embarrassment.

Attorney Joseph A. Power Jr., who later obtained a $100 million settlement for the Willis family, pressed the federal government to take up the investigation. The probe resulted in the conviction of scores of state officials, trucking executives, lobbyists and others.

Ryan was elected governor in November 1998, only weeks after the federal investigation surfaced. But as the scandal deepened, he announced he would not seek a second term.

Ryan's one-time top aide, Scott Fawell, and Republican political strategist Donald Udstuen both went to prison in the scandal. And when Ryan and Warner were indicted in 2002, Fawell became the government's star witness.

Almost as soon as closing arguments were delivered, the atmosphere in the jury room turned poisonous. Jurors claimed one member refused to deliberate and asked trial Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer to remove the juror.

Pallmeyer balked, later removed that juror and another when it was discovered they had lied on a pretrial questionnaire about their police records. Later, it was discovered that one of the jurors brought an unauthorized legal document into the room.

Before it was over, two jurors hired their own lawyers and there was discussion of giving some jurors immunity from prosecution.

The chaos led dissenting judges on the appeals court to suggest the errors were so serious the trial had been unfair. But most judges said whatever errors existed had been harmless.

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