Scott Fawell, a longtime political aide to former Illinois Gov. George H. Ryan, began testifying Thursday about how alleged illicit favors and state contracts were handed out under his regime.
Prosecutors have charged that while Ryan, a Republican, served as secretary of state and governor from 1991 until early 2003, he and his family accepted tens of thousands of dollars in gifts, cash and other bribes in exchange for state business contracts.
Fawell, 48, Ryan’s former campaign manager and chief of staff at the secretary of state’s office, is the prosecution’s star witness. His testimony is expected to take at least two weeks.
And Thursday, Fawell clearly was unhappy about being cast in such a role. As he entered the courtroom, Fawell waved to the audience, grinned at Ryan, 71, and co-defendant Lawrence E. Warner, and sneered at prosecutors.
Ryan and Warner have denied the fraud and conspiracy charges.
Fawell, who is serving a 6 1/2 -year prison sentence for charges connected to Ryan’s corruption case, told jurors he considered both defendants to be close friends -- but was testifying in exchange for leniency for himself and his fiancee, Andrea Coutretsis.
Fawell, who is facing additional federal charges along with his fiancee, comes from a prominent Republican family that includes a congressman, state legislator, two judges and a mayor.
“Would you say you have a very negative attitude toward federal prosecutors?” Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick M. Collins asked Fawell. Fawell’s face flushed. “That would be putting it mildly,” he replied, smirking. “You guys have my head in a vise.”
Fawell told jurors that he met Ryan, then Illinois’ lieutenant governor, in 1988. Ryan hired him to work for his office and placed him on the state payroll.
But for several months, Fawell said, he never did any work for the state. Instead, he continued working on the Republican presidential campaign to elect George H.W. Bush.
“Did you ever step foot into the lieutenant governor’s office?” Collins asked.
“Not that I recall,” Fawell replied.
Fawell also described how, while working in the secretary of state’s office, he created a list that detailed ways Ryan handed out favors, contracts and work. He said he penned the list because he saw “everything through the eyes of politics” and figured that keeping track of such favors could help his boss down the road.
Federal prosecutors have charged that Warner, a 67-year-old businessman and family friend of the former governor, ended up with about $3 million from Ryan’s alleged wrongdoing.
The investigation into Ryan, which started with looking into allegations of bribes paid for driver’s licenses, was sparked after an unqualified trucker was involved in an accident that killed six children. Dubbed Operation Safe Road, the investigation has led to 79 indictments and 73 convictions in the last seven years.