George Ryan to leave prison for halfway house
By Natasha Korecki and Stefano Esposito Sun-Times Media January 29, 2013 11:20PM
George Ryan | AP
Updated: March 2, 2013 7:36AM
TERRE HAUTE, IND. — On Wednesday, Illinois is expected to have only one former governor in federal prison.
George Ryan is scheduled to be released from the federal prison camp here and moved to a halfway house on Chicago’s West Side. His family and close friends made clear on Tuesday that an effort was afoot to avoid as much as possible news coverage of his release. But by midday, a horde of media were staged outside the prison.
Former Gov. James Thompson, a close friend of Ryan, said he would have no comment until Ryan was inside the halfway house.
Ryan, 78, re-enters his life outside of prison as a widower. His wife, Lura Lynn, died in 2011 of lung cancer and pulmonary fibrosis. His family said it would hold off having a formal memorial for her until Ryan was freed from prison.
Ryan is expected to stay for up to six months at the halfway house, run by the Salvation Army, where dozens of Illinois politicians made their transition back to freedom, including former Chicago City Clerk James Laski and Cicero Town President Betty Loren-Maltese.
Loren-Maltese didn’t sugarcoat her stay there.
“I was cleaning the bathrooms,” she said. “I thought it was horrible there — it reminded me of the high-security prison because of being locked in all the time.”
Laski, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to taking $48,000 in bribes, has few good memories of the dormitory-like building — an environment he called “dingy, cold and dark.”
“It’s not the most friendly place,” he said.
Laski recalled his first day at the halfway house, when he was required to introduce himself to various staff members and get a signature from each of them.
“You run around like a little kid, getting signatures. ... It’s silly,” said Laski, who lives on Chicago’s Southwest Side and runs a consulting business with offices in Chicago and Miami.
The halfway house, which opened in 1975, has helped more than 20,000 men and women transition back into the community, according to the Salvation Army. It offers a “safe, secure and structured environment in which offenders are given positive motivation to make effective changes in their lives,” according to a description on the Salvation Army’s website.
For people who have no family or support and little education, a halfway house might serve a useful purpose, but not for someone like Ryan who has many friends and connections, Laski said.
“It’s really a waste of taxpayer money forcertain people to be there,” he said.
But Melanie Scofield, a Salvation Army spokeswoman, said the halfway house programs are generally not “one size fits all. A plan is developed for their stay, and those plans vary from person to person — depending on their needs and ability.”
While Ryan was allowed several visits with his wife while he was a federal prisoner, including when she was on her deathbed, he lost legal bids and appeals to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for a release or temporary transfer. In denying his release, judges noted that thousands of other prisoners face similar tragic life circumstances, often in more economically dire situations.
Until the end, Mrs. Ryan made multiple pleas to lawyers, judges and even two presidents to commute her husband’s sentence. She gained traction briefly when U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, citing a long friendship with her, announced that he would urge then-President George Bush to commute Ryan’s sentence.
Not long after, however, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on political corruption charges, and any momentum behind Ryan’s early release quickly faded.
Ryan reported to prison in 2007 after a fierce battle with appeals courts over his conviction, which covered a breadth of corruption.
“George Ryan was convicted of a wide-ranging fraud and racketeering scheme that spanned his years as secretary of state and governor,” said a former federal prosecutor on the case, Joel Levin, who is now in private practice. “The scheme involved steering lucrative government contracts and leases to various lobbyists and insiders in return for cash, vacations and other benefits for himself, his friends and family. The scheme also involved the diversion of government resources for political purposes and the thwarting of efforts by the staff of the secretary of state’s inspector general to expose the corruption.”