I-Team: George Ryan's journey from governor to prison

January 30, 2013 (CHICAGO)

For 78-year-old Ryan, this is a story that began nearly 20-years ago.

When George Ryan was Illinois Secretary of State in 1994, a truck driver who illegally obtained his commercial license, killed six children in a blazing crash.

"The depth of the pain is indescribable," the victims' father Reverend Scott Willis said.

Four years later, Ryan was running for governor when the ABC7 ITeam revealed that the driver of the truck had bought the license through a scandal of selling commercial drivers licenses in exchange for bribes to employees of the Secretary of State's office.

"Was I involved in selling drivers' licenses to people illegally? Hell no I wasn't. Would I have tolerated it? Hell no," then Governor Ryan said in 2000.

He was convicted three years later while governor with 18 counts of federal corruption in the U.S. Department of Justice's Operation Safe Roads.

Joe Power, an attorney who represented the Willis family, spoke to them Tuesday night.

What does the family think of Ryan's release?

"Well, his day of reckoning will also come later, and it's up to him, not to them. They're praying for him. But he's the one who has to be accountable for what occurred, and it's not a question of them forgiving, ultimately there's someone upstairs who's gonna make that decision on forgiveness or not," Power said.

So far Ryan has been unsuccessful in his appeal, led by his attorney, former Illinois governor and friend, Jim Thompson.

While serving five and a half years in a federal Terre Haute, Ind. prison, Ryan's wife and brother died.

Ryan is nearly 80 years old, no longer has a state pension and says he is penniless.

"He's an old timer he'll get along," Thompson said. "He's led a long productive life. People forget sometimes apart from all the issues that led him to his conviction he was in many respects a very good governor."

Seventy-five people were prosecuted in Operation Safe Roads, including more than 30 public officials and employees.

At least nine people were killed by truckers who illegally obtained their Illinois commercial licenses.

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