Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was released from home confinement Wednesday, ending more than five ½ years in federal custody for wide-ranging corruption offenses.
The 79-year-old spent just over five years in federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., and in January was moved to home confinement at his residence in Kankakee, about 60 miles south of Chicago. For months, he was only allowed to leave for events such as doctor's appointments or to attend church.
Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke says Ryan was released Wednesday morning, a day ahead of schedule because of the July Fourth holiday. Burke did not have information about exactly where Ryan was released, but local media reported he was processed at a halfway house on Chicago's West Side.
"I feel wonderful. Freedom is a precious thing, and now I have mine," Ryan told the Chicago Sun-Times, which reported that the former governor was on his way to a barber shop to get a haircut.
Ryan was sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison in 2007, but his sentence was reduced for good behavior.
The Republican was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI in 2006. He was also accused of stopping an investigation into secretary of state employees accepting bribes for truck driver's licenses.
A lawyer for George Ryan says the ex-Illinois governor is eligible to be released from federal prison on a work release program.
Ryan could be released to a halfway house as soon as Jan. 30. He will be required to get a job - or be appointed to one - and he will be free to work during the day, but he'll have to return to the facility at night.
Former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson is Ryan's attorney.
"This is a program that's widely available for federal prisoners," Thompson said. "It's nothing special for Gov. Ryan."
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said it is time for Ryan to get out of prison.
"I never felt he was a threat to society if he was walking on the streets," Cullerton said. "I think he, obviously, served a lot of time for his offense."
News of Ryan's release comes just days after a federal court struck down another one his legal appeals, but Thompson said his client is grateful.
"Any person would be grateful for any chance at even partial freedom and the chance to integrate back into society," Thompson said.
George Ryan has already served five years of a six-and-a-half year prison sentence for corruption. Thompson said they will continue appealing those convictions.
Lura Lynn Ryan, the former Illinois first lady who spent the waning years of her life seeking freedom for her imprisoned husband, former Gov. George Ryan, has died after a long bout with cancer. She was 76.
Lura Lynn Ryan died late Monday at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee, said Andrea Lyons, an attorney for George Ryan. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer and hospitalized for apparent complications from chemotherapy.
She was a steadfast supporter of the former governor, whom she had met in high school, and maintained that he had never done anything wrong during his lengthy political career. They had been married for 55 years.
The former governor, serving time on federal corruption charges, was quietly escorted from his prison cell in Terre Haute, Ind., to be at her side for two hours in January in the intensive care unit at a Kankakee hospital, about 130 miles away. She had been hospitalized earlier in the day and, according to George Ryan's lawyer, drifted in and out of sleep and struggled to speak while he was there, though she recognized him.
The secret visit was not revealed until two days later, when federal prosecutors mentioned it in a court filing arguing against a request by Ryan's lawyers to have him released on bail so he could spend more time with his dying wife. The former governor was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2006, and has served three years of a 6 1/2-year sentence for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.
Lura Lynn Lowe grew up in the Kankakee County village of Aroma Park where her family, originally from Germany, had lived since 1834. Her father owned one of the nation's first hybrid seed companies. She moved to Kankakee for high school.
She and the former governor met in high school English class. Together, they have five daughters, one son and more than a dozen grandchildren.
Lura Lynn Ryan had no idea when they got married that her husband would go into politics. He started life as a Kankakee drug store owner.
But his brother was mayor and she started to think her husband might run for office when he helped a friend who was running for the county board and seemed to have a flair for politics.
The climb was steady, from a seat in the General Assembly to lieutenant governor to secretary of state and finally the governorship - reaching the pinnacle of both state government and Illinois' Republican establishment. She spoke admiringly of the mansion in Springfield - her official home for four years.
Prosecutors say the road to the top was marred by corruption. But she focused on the positive, including Ryan's unprecedented commuting of all 156 inmates on Illinois' death row before leaving office in 2003, and his efforts to curb drunken driving. She made it a priority to participate in charitable causes, such as a program to influence teenagers to avoid drug and alcohol abuse.
"As my children grew older and I could be with him (Ryan), I kind of took up my little causes," she said. "And I think we did make a difference."
Ryan was convicted in 2006 of steering state contracts and leases to political insiders while he was secretary of state and then governor for one term. He received vacations and gifts in return. He also was accused of stopping an investigation into secretary of state employees accepting bribes in exchange for truck driver's licenses.
In 2000, Lura Lynn Ryan was pulled into the licenses-for-bribes scandal when a woman claimed she'd handed her a letter in 1998 detailing corruption at a truck licensing facility. The alleged hand-off happened at an event nine months before George Ryan was elected governor, and the former first lady said she didn't remember the letter or the woman.
Lura Lynn Ryan grew increasingly frail during her final years, appearing at her husband's court appearances with an oxygen tank.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
From AP - News Headlines - March 01, 2011 10:16 AM
Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan says two people helped him make his historic decision clear the state's death row in 2003: An innocent man who was once two days away from being executed and a childhood friend who asked if Ryan was going to allow his son to be put to death.
Ryan's comments came last March in a deposition taken at a federal prison in Indiana, where Ryan has been locked up since late 2007 after his conviction of corruption charges. The deposition was released to the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune after the newspapers filed freedom of information requests.
Under questioning by a city of Chicago attorney, Ryan angrily denied his decision had anything to do with the federal probe that led to his conviction.