Kadner: Two reflect on George Ryan’s corruption
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org January 31, 2013 8:38PM
Tammy Raynor, a whistleblower in the Illinois licenses-for-bribes scandal, speaks about the state of corruption nearly 10 years later. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 2, 2013 12:05PM
For two Southland residents, former Gov. George Ryan’s release from a federal prison was more than just another news event.
“I guess for me, as I’m sure it is for him, there’s a very private sense of closure,” said Tammy Raynor, 51, an Illinois secretary of state employee under Ryan whose whistle-blowing about campaign kickbacks helped launch the federal investigation known as Operation Safe Road.
As an employee at the McCook driver’s license facility, Raynor saw employees taking bribes in exchange for licenses and told her bosses. That resulted in a transfer and harassment, which included the spiking of a soft drink with window-cleaning fluid.
After the six children of Pastor Duane Willis were killed in a 1994 truck accident in Wisconsin, Raynor took her story to the attorney for the Willis family who put her in touch with the FBI.
Today, the Lockport mother still works in the secretary of state’s office, but now she’s an investigator for its inspector general.
“I hope, I believe, employees realize today that if they see anything going on that’s illegal they can come to me and know that I will not only investigate but protect them,” Raynor said.
As for Ryan’s release, “For me, it produced a flood of memories from more than a decade. I really do wish him well.
“But when I look back, my years in the secretary of state’s office from about 1990 to 2000 were like taking a ride on a bucking bronco. The harder they bucked to get rid of me, the harder I held on.
“I stayed through it all, still have a job, and each day I thank God and (current secretary of state) Jesse White.”
Ed Hammer, of Orland Park, was an investigator in the secretary of state inspector general’s office under both Jim Edgar and Ryan. He also was a key witness for the U.S. attorney’s office during the Operation Safe Road prosecution.
“I watched the media circus over Ryan’s release, and, while I wasn’t surprised and I don’t blame the media, I just felt people might have been getting the wrong message,” Hammer said. “The message for me is that Ryan was sent to prison because of the political corruption in Illinois, and that culture of corruption has not gone away.”
Hammer and his investigation partner in the inspector general’s office, Russ Sonneveld, also of Orland Park, were investigating allegations of bribery when Ryan named his old friend Dean Bauer to head the IG office.
It soon became clear to the two investigators that no one wanted them probing into the connection between the bribery by workers and contributions to Ryan’s campaign fund.
Eventually, Ryan abolished the inspector general’s office, ending Sonneveld’s career, while Hammer returned to the Illinois State Police.
“Ryan didn’t deserve all the attention,” Hammer said about the former governor’s prison release and return home. “People deserve to be reminded, however, of the crimes he committed.
“As early as 1994, we had evidence that Ryan himself was involved in the corruption, and when the Willis kids were killed we knew there had to be a connection. People need to be reminded that Ryan’s actions while in office resulted in the deaths of six children.”
Hammer is a retired police officer and substitute teacher. He started a company that teaches police officers how to investigate Internet crime.
He also wrote a book “One Hundred Percent Guilty,” about corruption in the secretary of state’s office while Ryan was in charge.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins, who prosecuted Ryan, called the evidence provided by Sonneveld and Hammer essential to the case.
While Raynor believes the culture of corruption has changed since Ryan’s years in office, Hammer is more cynical.
“When Gov. Pat Quinn was lieutenant governor he formed a political reform commission headed by Patrick Collins, and it produced a number of recommendations for reform in Springfield,” Hammer said.
“They were good recommendations, but when they got to the Illinois General Assembly they were killed by the politicians there. So I don’t think the culture has changed that much. I think the politicians aren’t ready for reform.
“Look at the way they’re doing pension reform down there. They’re blaming the little guys for the problem, when they’re the ones who spent all the money and undermined the system.
“That’s how they do reform in Illinois. They pick on the little guys.”
To this day, Hammer blames Ryan for Sonneveld’s death.
“He was a victim of cancer and there are people who claim stress can bring on that sort of illness, and I do believe that all the stress we had trying to expose the corruption in the secretary of state’s office and Russ losing his job contributed in some way to his death,” he said.
As for Raynor, she expresses a greater sense of justice being served.
While working for Ryan in the secretary of state’s office, she would wear a long winter coat, “a coat of many colors” it would be called, so she could hide hundreds of fraudulent driver’s license documents she had photocopied and other evidence in its pockets. She eventually turned that information over to Collins.
“He told me that information provided a road map for what would become the Operation Safe Road investigation,” Raynor said. “And I’ll never forget what Patrick Collins said to me after that first meeting. He said, ‘Mrs. Raynor, I promise you we’ll get them.’ And he did.
“So all of that stuff I did secretly at work, all of the worry wondering if I would get fired or worse, it changed things.
“And I hope it sends a signal to every state worker that he can make a difference. If you do the right thing, someone will eventually listen to you.”