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Ex-Gov. Walker— Ryan got a ‘soft sentence’: ‘I got seven years, and this guy got six and a half?’

NOTE: This article originally was published Sept. 12, 2006

 Former Gov. Dan Walker said Monday he thinks former Gov. George Ryan got a “soft sentence” compared to the one handed down to Walker 19 years ago.

“I got seven years, and this guy got 6 1/2? And mine was a victimless crime that had nothing to do with the public trust or government,” Walker said. “His 6 1/2 years, if you look at it from the standpoint of public trust and the message component, it was a soft sentence.”

But the former Illinois Democrat — the only living Illinois governor who has been to prison — said he had “mixed feelings” about Ryan’s plight.

“I have deep empathy because the punishment, as I know very well, is devastating. Ending your career with that, being labeled a felon — that’s a heavy blow to any man.”

Walker, 84, was elected governor in 1972 and served one four-year term. More than a decade after he left office, he pleaded guilty to bank fraud, perjury and other federal crimes involving an Oak Brook savings and loan he owned.

He expected to receive probation in return for his guilty plea but was sentenced to seven years. It was later reduced to time served, which amounted to about 17 months.

‘EIGHT YEARS’ WOULD BE OK

Under federal guidelines now in place, Ryan must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before he can hope for early release.

Walker conceded that means that unless Ryan wins his appeal he will likely wind up spending more time in prison than Walker.

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Walker said he is not wishing any more time on the Republican, but, he said, “I think eight years would have been merited.”

Walker served his time in a minimum security prison in Duluth, Minn., where he has said he was subjected to strip searches, threatened by fellow inmates and forced to pick up cigarette butts with a wooden rod labeled “Governor’s stick.” He contemplated suicide.

Much of it will be described in Walker’s memoirs, The Maverick and the Machine: The Dan Walker Story, which will be published next year.

WARDEN ‘HATED ME’

Walker, who now lives outside San Diego, Calif., said it all came flooding back to him when he read of Ryan’s sentence last week.

“It was all mixed up with the nightmare that I went through,” Walker said. “No matter how many times Ryan was told what to expect, it must have hit him in the head like a hammer. So I felt for the guy, particularly at his age, knowing that he had to be thinking, ‘Will I ever get out alive?’ ”

Walker had no advice for Ryan.

“If he ends up in prison, I hope he doesn’t have the kind of experience I had,” Walker said. “I hope he gets treated decently.

It was brutal. I had a warden who hated me and guards. I hope he doesn’t run into that.”