Ex-Gov.'s Aide Guilty of Racketeering

Federal prosecutors said there's more to come in the investigation that led to racketeering convictions against former Gov. George Ryan's campaign committee and his longtime top aide.

Scott Fawell, 45, was convicted Wednesday by a federal jury on charges that included racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud and stealing state property.

Fawell and the Citizens for Ryan campaign committee also were found guilty of using state employees working on state time to run Ryan's campaigns for almost a decade. The charges stem from the eight-year period when Ryan was Illinois secretary of state, before he was elected governor in 1998.

"No one is above the law, no one is beyond the law," said U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, adding it was the first racketeering conviction of a campaign committee.

The eight-week trial threw the underside of Illinois politics into sharp focus, creating a fresh chapter in the state's long history of patronage, payoffs and corruption in government.

Jurors deliberated for seven days before reaching a verdict on the nine-count indictment.

Witnesses said Fawell ordered the shredding of campaign contributor lists to keep them out of the hands of federal investigators and lied to a federal grand jury.

He faces as many as eight years in federal prison. Sentencing is set for June 26.

Prosecutors said a five-year federal probe dubbed Operation Safe Road already has resulted in charges against 59 former state employees and others, and 55 convictions.

Lobbyist Larry Warner is set for trial in September on charges of fixing state contracts and licenses in Ryan's secretary of state's office.

And former state Rep. Roger Stanley, an old friend of Ryan's, is facing charges of making payoffs to land contracts at Chicago's Metra commuter rail service.

The investigation began as an inquiry into large-scale bribery paid in return for Illinois truck drivers' licenses. It was prompted in part by a 1994 tragedy near Milwaukee when a part fell off of a truck and struck an oncoming van, touching off the gas tank and leaving six children in one family dead.

The truck driver later invoked the 5th Amendment when asked how he had obtained his license.

Prosecutors say $170,000 in payoffs found their way from the drivers' licensing centers - where prosecutors say employees were pressured to sell large numbers of political fund-raising tickets - to Ryan's campaign fund.

Ryan, best known nationally as an outspoken critic of capital punishment, has not been charged in the case. He decided not to run for a second term as governor and left office in January.

Ryan said in a statement Wednesday, "Today's verdict saddens me."

He said he would not comment on the verdict because Fawell might appeal. But he did "wish Scott well during the trying days ahead."

Fawell's lawyers said their client did nothing that hasn't been done many times before in the rough and tumble of Illinois politics, and if overzealous followers went too far and violated the law, Fawell knew nothing about it.

Fitzgerald acknowledged there may be murky areas where it becomes hard to separate politics and government, and participants must walk a "fine line."

"The fine line doesn't involve shredding documents or committing perjury," Fitzgerald said. "Certain areas may be murky. The allegations made here were not murky in the end. The jury found that."