Irish-Americans are in the news in Chicago where U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald – who has charged Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff with perjury and obstruction of justice – over- saw the prosecution of George Ryan, the former governor of Illinois, that was spear- headed by his top public corruption prose- cutor, Patrick Collins.
Ryan was convicted on 18 counts of using his public office to enrich his friends and family, and is eligible for up to 20 years in prison.
A Kankakee, Illinois, pharmacist, Ryan began his career as a conservative Republican who helped kill the Equal Rights Amendment in Illinois, but he fin- ished up as a supporter of gay rights and pro-choice. And he made international headlines when he emptied Illinois’ death row of prisoners, saying he was troubled by reports that police tortured confessions out of defendants – some of whom had their convictions thrown out shortly before they were scheduled to be executed.
“I believe this decision today is not in accordance with the kind of public service I’ve provided to the people of Illinois over the years,” Ryan said as left the court. He is scheduled for sentencing in August but is hoping for a new trial.
A bizarre series of events during Ryan’s trial saw the judge replace two jurors who had neglected to mention their arrest records. Two alternates joined the jury and voted to convict on all counts. Ryan hopes the appellate court will grant him a new trial based on that.
Fitzgerald, a Brooklyn-born son of immigrants from Clare who has made a national reputation for being unafraid to investigate mayors, governors or even the chief of staff of the vice president, said he hopes other elected officials pay attention to the Ryan verdict.
“I think people now know, if you’re part of a corrupt conduct, where one hand is taking care of the other and contracts are going to people, you don’t have to say the word ‘bribe’ out loud,” Fitzgerald said. “I think people need to understand we won’t be afraid to bring strong circumstantial cases into court.”
Fitzgerald gave credit for Ryan’s convic- tion to Patrick Collins and his team of prosecutors as well as the FBI and other government agents who worked on the case for years.
Collins, who has degrees from Notre Dame and the University of Chicago Law School, is the sixth of seven children born to a printer/typesetter at the Chicago Tribune. A 6’ 2” former Benet Academy basketball player, Collins paid his way through private school with a lawnmowing business. Shortly after winning Ryan’ s conviction, he began Chicago’s second big corruption trial of the year, this time against Mayor Daley’ s patronage chief Robert Sorich. ♦