CHICAGO – Imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who has served six years at a federal prison for wide-ranging corruption charges, is scheduled to be released to a Chicago halfway house by the end of January, his attorney said Tuesday.
Ryan is set to leave the federal facility in Terre Haute, Ind., on Jan. 30 as part of a work release program, said one of his attorneys, Albert Alschuler. That's about five months ahead of his official release date, though it's common for inmates to be eligible for work release early.
In a twist illustrating perhaps the worst of Illinois politics, Ryan will overlap at the federal prison for several days with convicted former powerbroker William Cellini. The longtime Springfield businessman, who knows Ryan well, reported to the Indiana prison Tuesday.
Jurors in 2011 convicted Cellini of trying to extort the producer of the film "Million Dollar Baby" for a $1.5 million political contribution intended for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign. Blagojevich is serving a prison term in a Colorado prison for multiple corruption counts.
Ryan, 78, was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI. The Republican was accused of steering state contracts and leases to insiders as secretary of state and then as governor, receiving vacations and gifts in return. He also was accused of stopping an investigation into secretary of state employees accepting bribes for truck driver's licenses.
Nothing in prison rules that would bar Ryan and Cellini from seeing each other while incarcerated, and it's likely they will cross paths, Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke said.
"Hard to be involved in Republican politics and not know Bill Cellini," said Ryan's former chief of staff, Scott Fawell, who also spent time in prison for corruption. "He raised money for us ... They were friends."
The prison time has been particularly difficult for Ryan on a personal level, attorneys say.
His wife of 55 years died in 2011, while he was incarcerated. Prison officials allowed Ryan to leave prison to visit her several times during her fight with cancer, but he was not allowed to go to the funeral. Ryan has also suffered from health problems of his own, including kidney disease and infected teeth. At the same time, several appeals seeking his release from prison were denied.
"He's had a long hard time," Alschuler said. "He's had some health problems. He's lost his wife ... He's out of money, he lost his state pension."
Although his attorneys have mentioned several times over the past year the possibility of work release as early as January, they didn't say what Ryan will be doing at the halfway house or what type of job he may get.
Ryan attorney Jim Thompson, also a former Illinois governor, has previously mentioned a Salvation Army halfway house in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood. He didn't immediately return messages Tuesday.
Salvation Army officials declined to comment on their community corrections program, referring all questions to the Bureau of Prisons, where officials declined to comment on Ryan's release. For decades, the Salvation Army has run a community program where inmates live for a short time, take classes to learn basic skills and receive counseling, among other things.
Fawell, who was also convicted in the corruption investigation, spent time after his prison term at that same halfway house mentioned by Thompson. "It's like a really bad dorm room," Fawell said, but "life is a little better."
For one, inmates at a halfway house get to wear their own clothes, work a job and can be eligible to be in their own homes within weeks, though they still have to keep close contact with prison officials. At the same time, inmates of all walks of life are put in the same place.
"You could be sitting at a table with someone who just did 40 years," Fawell said. "The clientele is a little different than he's used to."
Before the corruption allegations emerged, Ryan was best known nationally for emptying Illinois' death row in 2003, which re-ignited a national debate on the death penalty and led to the end of capital punishment in Illinois in 2011.