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Former Illinois governor goes on trial in graft case

Mike Robinson Associated Press

CHICAGO – The biggest corruption trial in Chicago in decades opened Wednesday with a federal prosecutor launching a blistering attack on former Gov. George Ryan, saying he betrayed the public’s trust by taking cash and gifts to help insiders land lucrative state contracts.

“The fix was in in Illinois government,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon.

The verbal pounding brought Ryan defense attorney Dan K. Webb to his feet to demand a mistrial the minute Fardon sat down. The request was denied.

Webb later disparaged the prosecution’s case, saying there was no evidence to support it.

“If any witness comes into this courtroom and says they gave any corrupt money to George Ryan, put a big ‘X’ next to it, OK? Keep track of it,” he said.

Ryan, 71, is accused of giving a lobbyist friend, Larry Warner, free rein to steer contracts to his clients in exchange for gifts and favors during Ryan’s term as Illinois secretary of state in the 1990s.

Ryan faces 18 corruption counts, including conspiracy and fraud. Warner, a co-defendant, faces 12 counts.

The federal case, dubbed Operation Safe Road, began seven years ago as a probe into the paying of bribes for driver’s licenses and ballooned into a full-scale investigation of political corruption in Illinois.

Ryan was ultimately driven out of politics by the burgeoning scandal. The Republican decided not to seek a second term in 2002, and was indicted about a year after leaving office.

Seventy-nine former state officials, lobbyists and others have been charged in the case so far, and 73 have been convicted.

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