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Lawyers for ex-Gov. George Ryan appear before appeals court

George Ryan

George Ryan

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Updated: July 21, 2012 2:05AM

George Ryan took favors from friends — not bribes.

The gifts and vacations from people who did business with the state amounted to “a friend doing a favor for a friend,” Ryan attorney Albert Alschuler said.

That’s the crux of Ryan’s latest, and likely final, effort to get out of prison early, arguing that prosecutors failed to establish that he took a bribe, as required under the so-called “honest services” laws.

Throwing out those convictions would require releasing the 78-year-old former governor because he already has served the bulk of his 61/2-year prison term, Ryan’s attorneys contended.

“The only appropriate sentence would be time served,” former Gov. Jim Thompson, one of Ryan’s attorneys, said after a hearing Friday before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The former governor wasn’t at the hearing. While describing Ryan “as a strong guy,” Thompson said the ex-governor is eager to be freed from a federal prison near Terre Haute, Ind., ahead of his scheduled July 2013 release date.

“He’s hopeful, he’s anxious,” Thompson said. Ryan could be freed from prison within weeks if the federal appeals court sides with him.

The three-justice panel didn’t issue a ruling Friday, but could make a decision that would free Ryan — who was not at the hearing — within a few weeks, Thompson predicted.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court sent Ryan’s case back to that court to consider whether the instructions given to jurors in Ryan’s 2006 corruption trial were flawed in light of another high court ruling dealing with an arcane legal issue known as honest services fraud.

Defense attorneys have criticized honest services laws as too vague and a last resort of prosecutors in corruption cases that lack the evidence to prove money is changing hands.

The Supreme Court largely agreed in a 2010 ruling. It sharply restricted “honest services” laws, saying such laws must be applied to clear instances of bribery or kickbacks. Ryan’s appeal last year was one of several attempts to overturn his convictions based on that ruling.

The appellate court had rejected arguments from Ryan’s lawyers last year that his convictions should be thrown out because prosecutors never proved the disgraced former governor took a bribe.

But the high court — which upheld Ryan’s convictions — took issue with the way the lower court reached its decision upholding Ryan’s convictions. The appellate justices concluded that Ryan’s lawyers didn’t make a timely objection to jury instructions about the honest services law.

He was convicted of charges including tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

Prosecutors argued Friday that the evidence Ryan took bribes was overwhelming even if there was no explicit proof given to jurors that he took cash or other benefits for steering state contracts to friends and political supporters.

Contributing: Associated Press

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