Skilling Fallout Doesn’t Spring Ex-Gov From Prison


The Supreme Court’s June decision in United States v. Skilling doesn’t give former Illinois Gov. George Ryan a “get out of jail free” card, a U.S. district judge has ruled.

Ryan was convicted in 2006 of a series of fraud, racketeering, and similar crimes growing out of his abuse of public office while he was governor and before that as the state’s secretary of state. He has been in federal prison since November 2007.

Last August, Ryan filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255, which allows a federal prisoner to challenge his conviction and try to have it set aside if it was imposed in violation of law. His lawyers pointed out that Skilling made a substantial change in federal fraud law, rejecting the concept of “honest services” fraud in cases other than “paradigmatic cases of bribes and kickbacks.”

So the question before U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer of the Northern District of Illinois was the nature of Ryan’s convictions, which of course took place in the pre-Skilling period, and the nature of the jury instructions in his case.

Judge Pallmeyer, in a detailed 59-page opinion, turned aside all of Ryan’s arguments. The “conduct for which [Ryan] was convicted – steering contracts, leases, and other governmental benefits in exchange for private gain – was well-recognized before his conviction as conduct that falls into the ‘solid core’ of honest services fraud,” the judge wrote, noting that this conduct was exactly what the Supreme Court said in Skilling was the “proper target” of the “honest services” law.

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