CHICAGO (CN) – Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, found guilty of corruption charges in 2006, lost his bid Monday to have the 7th Circuit overturn his convictions.
Ryan was convicted of multiple counts of racketeering, mail fraud, tax violations and making false statements to the FBI. He received a 6 1/2-year sentence, which the 7th Circuit affirmed in 2007.
In a collateral attack, the former governor argued that his sentence should be reduced in light of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Skilling v. United States, which limited the scope of the “honest services” mail fraud theory. Skilling limited honest services mail fraud to bribery or kickbacks, disallowing convictions based solely on concealment of payments.
Media mogul Conrad Black had successfully invoked the theory to overturn two mail fraud charges, significantly shortening his 6 1/2-year sentence.
After U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer rejected Ryan’s attempt to do the same, and the 7th Circuit affirmed, Ryan finally found relief with the Supreme Court.
In April 2012, the court summarily vacated the circuit decision and ordered reconsideration in light of recent precedent.
Jurors in the Ryan trial were instructed that they could find criminal mail fraud if Ryan either took bribes or accepted undisclosed payments that created a conflict of interest, even if he did not do anything in exchange.
“The first possibility survived Skilling, and the second did not,” the circuit summarized in its latest ruling. “Ryan maintains that the jury may have convicted him on [conflict of interest] alone.”
Because Ryan’s indictment alleged that the mail frauds were predicate crimes, a defect could have vacated Ryan’s RICO convictions as well.
But the court concluded Monday that at least two of the mail fraud counts – and possibly all four – were based on the jury’s finding of bribery.
The 16-page decision points to Ryan’s convictions for tax evasion, which required the jury to find that the money Ryan received was a bribe rather than a gift.
“By convicting on the tax counts, the jury found that Ryan knowingly accepted payment in exchange for official acts – that he was bribed, rather than just that he failed to disclose gifts to the public,” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for a three-member panel.
Additionally, both the prosecution and the defense argued Ryan’s case to the jury as being about bribery, the court noted.
Under pre-Skilling case law, the prosecutor could have argued for Ryan’s conviction based solely on his failure to disclose any payments he received.
“But that’s not what the prosecutor argued,” Easterbrook wrote. “He told the jury that it needed to find that Ryan received improper ‘benefits’ – and in context these references to ‘benefits’ meant ‘bribes.’ In other words, the prosecutor did not try to take advantage of the portion of the instructions that Skilling later disapproved.”
Ryan is scheduled to be released next July. His wife, Lura Lynn, died of cancer while Ryan was incarcerated. Last December, Judge Pallmeyer denied Ryan’s plea to shorten his sentence after Lynn’s doctors determined that she had less than six months left to live. The 7th Circuit affirmed there, too.