This is a profile of Scott Fawell, former governor George Ryan’s longtime right-hand man, a tough, relentless schemer now serving time in a federal prison camp for running a corrupt political operation.
But perhaps the best way to begin a Fawell story—the best example of the tawdry intrigue that circulated in his wake at the highest levels of state government—is to start in a suburban backyard with an event at which Fawell was not even present, the Barbecue of the Documents.
It was a Sunday morning in the fall of 1999. Ernie Katris, then an independent pet supply salesman, arrived home in Mundelein from church with his family to find his brother-in-law Dean Prokos and Dean’s wife, Andrea, standing next to their BMW waiting for him. Andrea Prokos was Scott Fawell’s longtime aide—she had worked for him in the secretary of state’s office, on Ryan’s campaigns, and at the Metropolitan Exposition and Pier Authority (McPier), which oversees McCormick Place and Navy Pier. A few weeks earlier, Dean had come by with several boxes of documents and asked to leave them in the Katrises’ garage.
According to the testimony Ernie later gave in court, he understood that the documents included politically sensitive records of campaign contributions and employee hiring in the secretary of state’s office under Ryan. Now, as the two Prokos children sat in the car, Dean and Andrea nervously explained that the boxes had to be destroyed. Federal agents were closing in, and a story that morning in the Chicago Tribune about the expanding licenses-for-bribes probe had spooked the Prokoses. Just looking at the boxes—four, or maybe six of them—upset Andrea. Ernie later testified that Andrea thought it was “ridiculous” that the boxes were in “broad view,” even though they were stacked against the back wall of the Katrises’ garage. Andrea was afraid that someone would see the boxes. After explaining their plight, Dean and Andrea fetched a few more boxes from the BMW and moved them all to the Katrises’ basement. Then, according to one of many court records from which this account is drawn, “they huddled to discuss their options.”
Option one was a no-brainer for such an experienced political hand as Andrea. She asked Ernie if he had a shredder. In Illinois politics, that is not such a strange question. And even though Ernie was just a pet supply salesman, with a home office in his basement, he did indeed have a shredder. He had no use for it—he had never used it—but he had gotten it free from his brother, who had gotten it free from a man he knew who worked at Fellowes, the office supply company.
Fellowes makes top-of-the-line equipment. Take the Powershred 480-2HS High Security Shredder, said to provide “spy-proof destruction for large quantities of your most sensitive documents!” according to the company’s Web site. Many of Fellowes’s shredders meet NSA/DOD standards. That’s National Security Agency and Department of Defense. Fellowes knows shredders. Strip cut, confetti cut, avoid-jail-if-you-possibly-can cut.
Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. The shredder that Ernie retrieved darkened Andrea’s mood. A line shredder? Are you kidding? Andrea was a tough, efficient, organized professional; she was not going to botch the job. A line shredder was for amateurs. Andrea tried it out on a couple of documents, but a line shredder makes just a single vertical cut. Andrea worried that someone could too easily piece the documents back together again—documents of wrongdoing that she warned “could lead up to George Ryan,” Ernie testified. She asked Ernie if he had a crisscross shredder. Ernie did not.
Then we will have to burn the documents, Andrea decided.
It probably sounded like a simple proposition. Ernie had an old charcoal grill in his garage and a semisecluded corner in his backyard.
According to Ernie’s testimony, they got into formation, with Andrea sorting through the documents in the basement, prioritizing those most urgently in need of destruction, and handing them off to Ernie, the go-between. Dean was the grill master.
Ernie and Dean started with a stack of papers inside a manila folder. They had emptied the barbecue of its grillwork. They put the stack inside the barbecue, poured on the lighter fluid, and lit the stack.
It was not the best day for a barbecue. Ernie later testified that it was “a windy, cooler day.” Leaves were on the ground.
That night was Halloween, but the mood was far from festive in the backyard of the Katris home. The damn paper would not burn; the little that did burn turned to ash that was scooped up by the gusty winds and blown into the neighbors’ backyards, the detritus of one of the state’s most amazing political scandals wafting over the lawns of Long Meadows Estates. For 90 minutes Ernie, Dean, and Andrea tried their best to destroy evidence through the judicious use of a barbecue, but to little avail.
Now Andrea was really upset.
You will just have to dispose of the documents in your regular garbage, she told Ernie, according to court records. A little at a time over the next few months. Do it inconspicuously.
Ernie agreed, but there was one other matter. In a box at the foot of Ernie’s basement stairs, Andrea had come across a Zip drive with a disk in it. The Zip drive had been attached to a computer in the secretary of state’s office since 1991; later, Andrea had taken the drive with her to use at Ryan’s campaign headquarters, at her home, and at McPier. The disk contained memos written by Andrea and Fawell. Andrea asked Ernie to break it with a hammer.
Dean objected. He wanted to keep the disk. “This is our get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said, according to court records. Andrea was livid. Dean wanted the disk as a bargaining chip in case federal investigators came after them.
Andrea wouldn’t have any of it.
“I will not roll over on these people!” she said, according to Ernie’s testimony. She would remain loyal to her political patrons. They were her friends. The disk had to be destroyed.
Dean and Andrea argued for a few minutes before agreeing to give the disk to Ernie for a couple of weeks until they came to an agreement. Ernie slipped the disk into a file on the desk in his basement office and forgot about it. Dean and Andrea stayed for dinner, then left sometime between 5 and 5:30 p.m.
Over the next six to eight weeks, Ernie carried out his orders and put stacks of files into a black outdoor trash bag mixed with one or two bags of regular garbage and put the bags out for pickup every Thursday. Andrea occasionally checked in for progress reports. It may have been old-fashioned, but it beat the line shredder and the barbecue and got the job done.
Or so it seemed.
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Fawell with Governor George Ryan in August 2001, after Ryan signed a bill authorizing the expansion of McCormick Place.
The Barbecue of the Documents represents a particularly lunatic expression of the corruption that flourished under George Ryan while he was the secretary of state from 1991 to 1999, and governor after that. A six-year federal investigation has already resulted in 62 convictions or guilty pleas, and today, Ryan himself faces criminal charges for, among other things, allegedly taking graft and steering deals to friends.
Ryan insists that he is innocent; his trial is scheduled for March 2005. Throughout much of the time the crimes are alleged to have taken place, the man at Ryan’s side was Scott Fawell, the gifted, arrogant, highflying political operator.
Last year, prosecutors successfully argued that Fawell was “at the wheel” of a sprawling operation that illegally used a network of state employees on Ryan’s campaigns and that rewarded friends and big-time political fundraisers with sweetheart deals on state contracts and leases. Then, in February 2004, Fawell, 46, already serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence in a federal prison camp in Yankton, South Dakota, was indicted again in connection with an alleged bid-rigging scheme that he and Andrea Prokos, 35—who became his lover—are said to have pulled off even after they knew that federal investigators had them in their sights. (Neither Fawell nor Prokos would comment.)
The story of Scott Fawell’s rise and fall offers a particularly disheartening glimpse inside the political culture of Illinois. His Republican credentials are impeccable (even if his family has a startling proclivity for mixing scandal or controversy with public service), and early on he displayed a talent for political strategy that matched his fierce desire to win. “He was really one of the brightest political guys I’ve ever met,” says Paul Green, the director of the School of Policy Studies at Roosevelt University. “You don’t survive and win by playing it easy.” Mentored by former U.S. senator Charles Percy and George Ryan, Fawell rose swiftly through assorted state posts (in his last position, as the chief executive officer of McPier, he earned $195,000 annually), although his real job seems to have been scheming—running campaigns, making deals, skimming boodle on the side. By the late nineties, prosecutors have said, he was being paid off with trips to Costa Rica and trysts with prostitutes. In hindsight, it is remarkable how long he lasted and how brazen he became.
At Fawell’s trial, his lawyer, Edward Genson, argued that Fawell was simply a fall guy—singled out to take the rap for a style of politics that had flourished for years in the state. Some observers think there is some truth to that characterization. “Scott Fawell is the one who is paying the price, but his trial unveiled for all the public the ugly reality of how a culture of corruption has manifested itself in the state,” says Jay Stewart, the executive director of the Better Government Association.
But if Fawell was a representative, he was also a quintessence—no one else in recent memory has been so central to such wide-ranging corruption. “He was unbelievable. It was just everything with this guy,” says Jim Burns, the former federal prosecutor who is now the inspector general in the secretary of state’s office. “You wonder how it could have gone on for so long. It just became a way of life.”
The story of Scott Fawell’s career offers a dismaying case study in the way that politics, government, and opportunism intertwine in this state. “The political system in Illinois for as long as anyone can remember has been one of pretty easy virtue, a wink-and-a-nod standard of ethics,” says Kent Redfield, the associate director of the Institute for Legislative Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “In that kind of climate, Scott Fawell and the people who play the game the best are going to succeed.”
Unless, or until, they overreach. “They were terribly arrogant about what they did,” Redfield says. “Arrogance and hubris brought them down.”
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Scott Fawell’s dynastic family is as much a part of DuPage County as shopping malls and subdivisions. The College of DuPage, for example, is located on Fawell Boulevard. The west branch of the DuPage River features the Fawell Dam. Kids play soccer at a park named for a Fawell. There is even a Fawell Institute, at Naperville’s North Central College, which claims nearly the entire Fawell clan as alumni.
Several of the dedications honor Scott’s uncle, Harris Fawell, who served seven terms as a U.S. congressman before retiring in 1998. The boulevard was named after Scott’s mother, Beverly, who served 19 years as a state legislator. The family’s patriarch was Scott’s grandfather Walter Fawell, who served for six years as an alderman and four years as the mayor of West Chicago, a small community (population: 23,469) between Wheaton and St. Charles known for its gang problems and radioactive residue from a now-shuttered Kerr-McGee chemical plant site. West Chicago is the family’s home turf—a Fawell designed the city flag—and the place where Scott grew up.
In one measure of the family’s early notoriety, Walter founded a Fox Valley baseball league in the 1940s and fielded a team that included himself and his four kids, all boys. Given their penchant for brawling after the games, the boys became known as the Fighting Fawells. The name would later attach itself to the family’s political pursuits, as the Fawell boys branched out to establish a hold throughout DuPage, one of the most heavily Republican counties in the nation.
The best-known son is Harris, the former congressman. His twin, Thomas, was once the head of the DuPage Airport Authority. Another brother, Michael, was at one time the DuPage County public guardian. And the fourth brother, Bruce, who is Scott’s father, was the chief judge of the DuPage County Circuit Court. Bruce’s first wife was Beverly, the longtime state legislator. Bruce’s second wife, Terry, is a partner in the law firm of Fawell & Fawell. The other partner is Jeffrey Fawell, Scott’s brother. Jeffrey is also the chairman of the influential Wheaton-based Milton Township Republican Organization, where Scott got his first political job. Jeffrey’s wife, Blanche, is a DuPage County judge. One of Scott’s cousins, Bob Heap, is on the DuPage County board. Scott Fawell’s first wife, Michele Zuchnik, recalls vacationing with the Fawell clan every winter in Jamaica. “It was like living with the Kennedys, except in DuPage County,” Zuchnik says.
The Fawells may be DuPage royalty, but they are hardly pristine. Harris Fawell’s 14 years in Congress were free of scandal, but some other family members have not been so lucky. Bruce, Scott’s father, left the bench after he and two other judges were accused of improperly performing marriages outside the courthouse and pocketing the fees. Michael was disbarred in 1986 after stealing $17,000 from elderly clients whose estates he was administering; he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in a work-release program at the DuPage County Jail. (He later pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud in another case.) As the controversial chairman of the DuPage Airport Authority Board, Thomas Fawell Sr. once explained the secret approval of a $65-million bond sale to fund an expansion by saying, “We just wanted to get it done without all the flak.” A League of Women Voters report chastised the board for going on a spending spree with taxpayers’ dollars. Thomas was fired in 1996 after a separate stint as the airport’s manager. Beverly sparked controversy when she resigned her state senate seat in 2000 to take a public relations job with the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority—a job that boosted her salary by about $25,000, to $85,000 a year, and entitled her to two state pensions.
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Scott Raymond Fawell learned the business of politics not only from his family but also from the precinct captains and strategists who worked on the campaigns of his uncle and his father. “He was into it from an early age,” says Beverly Fawell. At Scott’s trial, his lawyer, Ed Genson, described how passionate his client was—and unwittingly how prone he was from the start to push the limits. “As a young man, Scott passed out literature for his father door-to-door,” Genson said in court. “As Scott got older, he hung political signs. Scott, with his cousins and [his] baseball team, found a fence digger and put Fawell signs at every intersection in [West Chicago]. When the police found out, they made him go back and take them down.”
Throughout his childhood, Scott helped out with the mundane but essential nuts-and-bolts organizing work that campaigns are made of—fetching doughnuts for campaign workers, driving voters to the polls, strategically deploying lawn signs, planning parade logistics, and arranging folding chairs at rallies.
Scott’s other passion growing up was sports. His father maintained a baseball diamond in the family’s backyard during the summer. In the winter, Scott and his brothers persuaded a farmer nearby to let them play hockey on his pond. He followed those pursuits in high school and college; in the yearbook photo for the West Chicago High School freshman baseball team, Scott can be seen flashing his trademark grin.
Although he was getting a valuable education in politics, he was less satisfied in the classroom. “He was way ahead of everybody else,” recalls Zuchnik, who first met Scott when they were 14. “He’d get a two-week assignment and stay up all night and finish it and then be bored for two weeks.” Instead of attending his senior year in high school, he enrolled at the College of DuPage. Fawell’s hockey coach there, Herb Salberg, remembers an introverted longhair who “had a rough high-school life.” In fact, Salberg, who now lives in Florida and gives motivational speeches, used Fawell for years as an example of a troubled person who made a success of himself. After two years at the College of DuPage, Fawell briefly joined a brother and a sister at Southern Illinois University before returning home to North Central College, where he studied political science. All the while he remained active in local politics, registering young voters, working phone banks, and tracking turnout at polling places.
In 1980, after 30 years of marriage, Bruce and Beverly divorced. Scott took it hard—“He idolized them both,” Zuchnik says. The same year, Beverly ran for the General Assembly. Scott, who was in his last quarter at North Central, spent 40 to 50 hours a week handing out literature door-to-door and hosting coffees. In the midst of the campaign, Scott and Zuchnik—then Michele Musial—got married. Beverly won the election, and afterward the Milton County Township Republicans placed Scott in a job in the township assessor’s office. His ascent through the Republican establishment began.
Over the next few years, he helped out with his mother’s campaigns and worked on the 1984 Senate re-election campaign of Charles Percy. By this time, Fawell’s hard-driving style was apparent. Beverly remembers when Scott promised that he was going to put Percy in ten Fourth of July parades. “I said, ‘You can’t put anybody in ten parades,’” she recalls. “‘You may get him to four, but you’re going to have six communities that are going to be ticked because of the fact they were promised a United States senator and he’s not going to be showing.’ And Scott said, ‘Yeah, he’ll show. I hired a helicopter.’ And I said, ‘Where are you going to land the thing?’ Well, in Wheaton he landed at Wheaton College; in Blue Island he landed at a park.
“I said, ‘OK, now you have him in the town. How do you get him in the parade?’ He said he had set up a relay team with two other guys, and they timed how long it would take to get from one town to another. And he came back about six o’clock that night, grinning from ear to ear. And soaking wet—he had walked in all these parades. And I said, ‘You did it, didn’t you?’ And he said, ‘I got him in all ten, Mom.’”
In no time Fawell moved from his original job as Percy’s driver to a role as the candidate’s confidant and aide. “Percy became sort of his mentor,” Beverly says. “He literally almost lived in Percy’s pocket. He stayed with him quite often in the evening.”
“He was so gracious and thoughtful, and did a wonderful job with me,” says Percy, now retired in Washington, D.C. “I thought he had a chance to go higher in public service.”
Scott was devastated by Percy’s loss to Paul Simon, Beverly says. “[Percy] called me up and said, ‘I’m really worried about Scott. I think he’s going to jump off a roof or something. He can’t get over the fact I lost. He’s taking it worse than I am.’”
Scott later recalled to Crain’s Chicago Business that the Percy defeat had made him “determined not to ever again go through the misery of a losing election night.”
* * *
After the Percy loss, Scott Fawell moved through a series of patronage jobs in state government. When Jim Thompson was governor, Fawell worked as an administrative assistant in the Department of Employment Security. In Genson’s telling at trial, designed to show how the use of state workers in campaigns was a tradition, Fawell’s real job was to get people to political events and to sell fundraising tickets for Thompson. (In an e-mail, Thompson says, “[I]f state workers worked on political campaigns, they did so on their own time.”) Fawell then moved off the state payroll to work full-time on Thompson’s 1986 re-election campaign as a field director for the campaign manager, Gregory Baise, now the president of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. After Thompson’s re-election, Fawell—who was 30 at the time—went to work as the deputy director of George H. W. Bush’s 1988 Presidential campaign in Illinois, which was led by Sam Skinner, who later served as Bush’s chief of staff and transportation secretary. Genson contended in court that Skinner and Fawell had Thompson’s workers at their disposal for Bush campaign work. (“Not to my knowledge,” says Skinner. While some state workers may have volunteered to work on the campaign, Skinner says, they would have done so on their own time.) After the 1988 elections, Fawell was named a special assistant to then lieutenant governor George Ryan.
In Ryan, Fawell found a match. The classic tough-talking, cigar-chomping machine politician, Ryan came from the rough precincts of Kankakee and had spent a decade in the trenches as a state legislator, rising to the position of speaker of the House and minority leader before winning statewide office. He then waited patiently through two terms as lieutenant governor and two terms as secretary of state before fulfilling his ambition to run for governor. Fawell was the young gun, a brash workaholic who would not be outfought or outsmarted. Fawell once told Crain’s Chicago Business: “We’re both political animals.” Ryan told the late Chicago Sun-Times political columnist Steve Neal: “Scott lives and breathes politics.”
Ryan embraced Fawell in a way that no other politician had; a relationship blossomed that has been likened to that of a father to a son. Ryan asked Fawell to run his first campaign for secretary of state in 1990. The contest was instructive for Fawell. For six months Ryan blasted his Democratic opponent, Jerry Cosentino, the state treasurer, for alleged financial improprieties. Yet the polls did not move until the homestretch, when media reports revealed that in exchange for depositing state funds in the Cosmopolitan National Bank, Cosentino had received a $1.9-million personal loan. Ryan won with 53 percent of the vote. Fawell said at the time that he had learned what it takes to outrage voters: “It has to be serious corruption that turns the stomach. All the little stuff with perks and gifts, [voters] don’t see that as the most dishonest thing in the world.”
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George Ryan would later say that a culture of corruption existed in the secretary of state’s office before he got there and would probably exist after he left. After all, the most famous secretary of state in recent Illinois history is Paul Powell, a downstate Democrat who was found dead in his hotel room with $800,000 cash in a closet. The secretary of state’s office has long been regarded as a perks and patronage mill that in many ways is a political organization unto itself—a launching pad for higher office. With 3,600 employees scattered through 21 departments and 137 driver’s license facilities statewide, the office is “a machine for giving out favors,” says Cindi Canary, the director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
George Ryan, with Fawell in tow as his chief aide, obviously recognized the potential of the office. “They took some methods and just ratcheted them up to the highest level,” says Jay Stewart of the Better Government Association. “And they did some stuff probably that no one had dared before, and they did it in a really cavalier way.”
Ryan wanted to follow the path of his predecessor, Jim Edgar, who had made the leap from secretary of state to governor. He chose Fawell to help make it happen. Ryan not only made Fawell an assistant secretary of state, and later his chief of staff, but also essentially turned over control of his permanent campaign fund to Fawell. Eventually, the commingling of those roles would be at the heart of the case against Fawell. While it is not entirely uncommon, it is illegal for state employees to work on campaigns on state time. Fawell aggressively blurred that separation; prosecutors successfully argued that the intertwined nature of the secretary of state’s office and Ryan’s campaign operation constituted the creation of a criminal enterprise.
“You had people like Scott Fawell looking at where they were and saying, ‘We’re sitting on resources,’” explains Canary. “And instead of saying, ‘It’s the secretary of state’s and it belongs to the people of Illinois,’ they said, ‘We’re sitting on resources that we can use for this campaign.’ At its core, this whole scandal was about the unbridled quest for campaign funds.”
Fawell divided and subdivided the state into zones and regions, and in virtually every instance he assigned a secretary of state employee to act as a zone or regional campaign manager, according to the testimony of his one-time protégé, Richard Juliano. State workers were then assigned to hand out campaign literature, work phone banks, march in parades, and attend campaign events—and not just for Ryan but for oth er candidates Fawell favored. (Witnesses testified that in 1994, Fawell ordered state workers to help his mother’s re-election effort.)
The way the office was run was not a secret. Allegations that workers were selling driver’s licenses in order to buy fundraising tickets for Ryan surfaced throughout Ryan’s first term, as did allegations that inspectors from the secretary of state’s office were pressuring the driving schools, body shops, and car dealerships they regulated to buy fundraising tickets for Ryan. Later, an old friend that Fawell had put in charge of the office’s Chicago area properties would testify that, with Fawell’s knowledge, he had solicited contributions from the landlords and contractors he dealt with. He wasn’t refused once. “Fundraising policies were really at the heart of the so-called culture of corruption,” says Jim Burns. “The heavy shaking down of employees, the pressure to sell [fundraising] tickets, even with the guys up the food chain.”
Fawell reveled in his role, and his arrogance alienated some party officials. Juliano testified that Fawell once said, “Nobody can move a contract in this place, nobody can get hired in this place, without me knowing about it.”
In contrast, Ryan preferred the big-picture dealmaking carried out over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “Ryan is notoriously a hands-off person not interested in details,” says the University of Illinois’ Kent Redfield. “That then creates a need and an opportunity for someone like Fawell. You have to have somebody with a huge amount of discretion who is going to make things run on a day-to-day basis.” Fawell apparently saw himself that way. “George has a lot of faith in me, a lot of trust,” Fawell once told Crain’s Chicago Business. “He’s always let me run day-to-day things as I see fit.”
By all accounts, Fawell flaunted his power. An internal affairs investigator for the secretary of state’s office named Mark Lipe once told the Springfield Journal-Register, “Scott used to summon various directors [of the secretary of state’s office] to his office in Chicago and make them sit out in the hallway in front of his office all day long and then come out and say he didn’t have time to see them.”
And Fawell had no hesitation about keeping score and using his power as leverage. “If he helped you, by the time you got the help you wanted, you’d be pissed off at him at the things he put you through—the arm-twisting, the messing with you,” says one Republican insider.
“Scott Fawell didn’t understand what kindness meant,” says yet another Republican official. “Everything was a deal to him.”
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Fawell’s first marriage ended amicably in 1985. “We probably had no business getting married,” says Zuchnik. “We were kids.” In 1988, Fawell married Joan Mitnick—who then began her own journey on the state payroll. She spent eight years in the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, then landed a $55,000 job in the treasurer’s office under Judy Baar Topinka. In 1999, Lori Montana, the director of the Illinois Lottery, created a new assistant director’s position and gave the $80,000-a-year post to Mitnick. Later, with Ryan on his way out the door and Mitnick about to lose her job in the changeover to a Democratic administration, she landed a four-year appointment to the Illinois Department of Financial Institutions at a salary of $83,904—the second highest in the office.
Five years after Fawell married Joan, another woman entered his life. Andrea Prokos is the daughter of Tom Coutretsis, a Long Grove restaurateur and a longtime loyal Republican. One measure of Coutretsis’s status is that he was named to the infrastructure committee of Ryan’s gubernatorial transition team. Another measure of Coutretsis’s clout: Both his daughters, Andrea and Tina, as well as Andrea’s husband, Dean, got jobs in the secretary of state’s office.
In 1992, Andrea Prokos, fresh out of Loyola University with a political science degree, went to work in the secretary of state’s office. In short order, as Scott Fawell’s executive assistant, she started helping with Ryan’s re-election campaign and quickly developed her own power base as Fawell’s proxy. “Ms. Prokos essentially became the defendant’s mouthpiece,” prosecutor Zachary Fardon said at Fawell’s trial. “He often used her to deliver his political mandates . . . to low level Secretary of State employees. Secretary of State employees top to bottom knew that when she told them to do something it was coming from the chief of staff, so they did it.”
* * *
Ryan’s Democratic challenger in 1994 was the state treasurer, Pat Quinn, who is now the lieutenant governor. During the campaign, Quinn regularly railed at the excesses of perks and deals in the office under Ryan, often citing specific examples—such as a $25,000 contract to a former state Republican chairman who in return delivered a ten-page report on customer service at driver’s license facilities. Still, Ryan won the election with 61 percent of the vote.
Ryan’s second term as secretary of state began with the fallout over the horrific tragedy of the Willis family—six children riding in a van in Wisconsin were killed in a fiery explosion when the taillight assembly of the truck ahead of them fell off and was hit by the van. It turned out that the truck driver had illegally obtained his driver’s license. The inspector general of the secretary of state’s office, Dean Bauer, a childhood friend of Ryan’s, supposedly undertook an investigation. But when things got hot—when investigators got too close to what would become known as the licenses-for-bribes scandal—Fawell fired two of them and reassigned at least five others. Fawell wrote a memo to Ryan about the inspector general’s office that said they needed to get “someone in there who won’t screw our friends, won’t ask about [fundraising] tickets.” And then he stored that memo on a Zip disk that would come back to haunt him. (Bauer later pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for his role in thwarting the internal probe.)
Fawell’s other schemes were more artful. With the 1996 Presidential campaign approaching, Ryan became the Illinois chairman of Texas senator Phil Gramm’s run for the Republican Presidential nomination, even though Governor Jim Edgar and much of the party establishment supported Bob Dole. “Politically for George it is just a better move,” said Fawell at the time. “He gets to play a more visible role with Gramm. If Edgar is Dole’s chairman, it’s Edgar’s show.”
True to form, Fawell diverted state employees to work for Gramm. (Prosecutors say Gramm knew nothing of the scheme.) And then Fawell found a way to make a buck. He created SRF Consulting, and arranged for the Gramm campaign to pay $30,000 to Alan Drazek, a former Chicago Transit Authority board member who ran a consulting company called American Management Resources. According to Drazek’s testimony, he signed a contract with the Gramm campaign and did some work, but diverted 75 percent of his fee to Fawell, Richard Juliano, and four of Ryan’s daughters. Juliano testified that Ryan told him to create a line item in the Gramm budget for consulting services “so that some people can make some money.”
And then there were the marijuana and the prostitutes. According to prosecutors, Fawell accepted free marijuana from Roger Stanley, a direct mail and campaign brochure specialist, as well as vacations in Costa Rica, Door County, and Lake Ontario. The Costa Rican fishing trips were in return for state contracts awarded to Stanley. On two 1999 trips, a Costa Rican travel agent known as Penthouse Bill allegedly held welcoming parties at which Stanley and his guests would choose prostitutes to spend the trip with. Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, but prosecutors argued in pretrial filings that the arrangement showed how close Stanley and Fawell were. “By agreeing to accept the prostitution benefits, Fawell effectively cast his lot with Stanley,” prosecutors said, “even at the risk of future blackmail.”
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When Edgar decided not to run again for governor in 1998, Ryan saw his chance. Fawell once again ramped up his operation, prosecutors alleged, using employees, office equipment, vehicles, and phones from the secretary of state’s office in Ryan’s campaign. He even cut the property tags off a state refrigerator and gave it to the campaign. Fawell reminded state employees to make their offices look “lived in” while they were away working on the campaign. Andrea Prokos suggested that the employees rotate visits to the office to establish evidence that they were on the job. According to court testimony, Prokos also directed the diversion of state office equipment to Ryan’s campaign headquarters. One day, prosecutors say, workers scooped up reams of paper from the secretary of state’s office at the James R. Thompson Center and walked it across LaSalle Street to Ryan’s campaign headquarters. “Carrying paper across the street is a silly sort of thing to do unless you’ve totally bought into the idea that there’s absolutely no distinction between political power and the public business,” says Kent Redfield of the Institute for Legislative Studies. “Certainly they pushed that line way beyond what other people had done.”
The smart campaign that Fawell had crafted for Ryan—running to the left of Democratic nominee Glenn Poshard on social issues—was almost upended by the licenses-for-bribes scandal. It broke into public view when federal investigators made their first arrests two months before the election, although Scott Lassar, then the U.S. attorney, announced that Ryan was not a target of the investigation. According to court testimony, Andrea Prokos bought an industrial-size shredder—on the taxpayers’ dime—and on at least three occasions directed the destruction of incriminating documents. “We have to shred everything, and it needs to be tonight,” Andrea said at one point, according to the testimony of Robert Newbold, the head of the physical services department in the secretary of state’s office and the downstate coordinator of Ryan’s campaign.
Ryan won the governorship, and afterward Ryan and his wife, Lura Lynn, celebrated by taking Scott and Joan Fawell to Jamaica. Reportedly it was not the first time the couples had vacationed there together. They had gone, prosecutors would later allege, as guests of Harry Klein, a close friend and campaign contributor who won lucrative contracts to lease several buildings he owned to the state. (Klein was never charged.)
Fawell was expected to follow Ryan to the Governor’s Mansion as his chief of staff, but was instead dispatched to McPier. Insiders speculated that Fawell was too hot to keep around, given the intensifying federal investigation. But being the chief executive officer of McPier was not a bad consolation prize—the job is one of the plums of the Illinois political world. McPier has traditionally been a patronage heaven with lots of opportunities to reward friends with jobs and contracts. McPier is also the embodiment of what the Tribune’s John Kass has long called the combine, the interlocking circle of clout that runs the state regardless of party membership. Appointments to McPier’s board of directors are shared by the governor, typically a Republican, and the mayor of Chicago, a Democrat. And that suited Fawell perfectly. “He was bipartisan,” says one inside operative. “It was always about business, not politics.”
Well, not entirely business. Fawell took Prokos with him to McPier, making her the director of operations. In a second indictment in 2004, prosecutors alleged that the couple used the McPier-owned Hyatt Regency McCormick Place for trysts—at the public’s expense.
Fawell quickly got to work. When he came aboard in 1999, McCormick Place South, a $675-million addition that Mayor Daley said would fulfill convention needs for 80 years, was just two years old. Fawell immediately began talking about an expansion. That July, Ryan signed a $270-million McPier bond package that included a 250-slip marina on the north side of Navy Pier, a truck storage facility at Lake Shore Drive and 31st Street, and an $8-million one-block extension of a planned express bus lane to connect with Lakeside Center east of Lake Shore Drive.
In 2001, Fawell lobbied the General Assembly for an $800-million McCormick Place expansion—a honey pot from which to dole out contracts, jobs, and favors. And when the plan ran into a roadblock because of a dispute between the House and the Senate over a portion of the funding, Fawell had the right sponsor to see it through: the governor. At the last minute, Ryan stepped into the fray and pulled the deal out of the fire. “George really took an active role, and I was with him when he was calling the Speaker and Pate [Philip, the Senate president], saying, ‘I want to get this done,’” Fawell told the Sun-Times. “He finally made this thing happen.”
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By March 2001, according to the McPier indictment, Fawell knew he had become the focus of federal investigators. Nonetheless, prosecutors have charged, he continued to scheme. They say that Fawell arranged to steer the main construction contract for the McCormick Place expansion to a client of his old friend Al Ronan, a former state legislator turned superlobbyist. Over the years, Ronan had supplied Fawell with free meals, rounds of golf, and other “vacation benefits,” Andrea Prokos told investigators. He also later held a fundraiser at Tavern on Rush for a Scott Fawell legal defense fund.
The way the deal worked was simple—Andrea shared the confidential bid information with one of Ronan’s underlings, Julie Starsiak. She then passed the information along to the client, Jacobs Facilities. Jacobs originally had the second-lowest bid, $18.8 million. The lowest bid was $12.9 million. Based on the confidential information, Jacobs lowered its bid to $11.5 million in the second round of the process and won the contract. (Fawell, Prokos, Starsiak, and two Jacobs employees were later charged with bid rigging. All but Fawell pleaded guilty. Ronan’s company, Ronan Potts, was also charged, but Ronan individually was not.)
Fawell did take some precautions. With the taxpayers’ money, he leased a “concealed detection device”—a security gadget disguised as a clock—for $400 a month for seven months, according to the indictment against him. The device can supposedly determine whether anyone present is wearing a wire. Fawell also had his office, his office phone, and a conference room swept for bugs—again, at taxpayers’ expense. And he had a McPier employee take Fawell’s McPier car to a “remote location” to be swept outside of public view, according to court records. In all, prosecutors allege, Fawell spent $16,500 of public money on his sweeps, claiming they were necessary to protect the McPier workplace from “industry competition.”
From a distance, it appears that Fawell almost took glee in continuing to plot in the face of a federal investigation. “The game is what attracts some people, trying to be the smartest, cleverest person,” says Redfield. “That’s the kind of hubris that gets you in trouble. You become so centered around feeding your ego in terms of your ability to manipulate and to orchestrate stuff that you lose sight.”
Meanwhile, with Ryan’s term winding down and no hope of re-election, Fawell tried to make a deal for himself. In the spring of 2001, he tried to get the legislature to give him a ten-year term at McPier. When that failed, Fawell negotiated with the McPier board for a guaranteed $300,000 golden parachute if he lost his job. That deal also fell apart once it was exposed by the press.
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While Fawell was making deals at McPier, Andrea Prokos’s marriage was falling apart. In December 2000 she filed for an order of protection from Dean Prokos, claiming in a police report that he had threatened to kill her if she left him. A week later, Andrea filed for divorce. Around the same time, according to Ernie Katris’s testimony, Dean asked Katris to look at the Zip disk he had been holding since the barbecue fiasco. But try as he might, Katris could not get the disk to open on his computer.
Some time in the spring of 2001, according to Katris, Dean took the Zip disk to Springfield to show it to a man described in court records as a “computer guru”; he got the disk open. (Both Dean and Katris were given immunity in exchange for their cooperation with authorities; neither was charged with a crime. Neither would comment for this article.) Shortly after, Dean turned the disk over to federal authorities. Andrea was later charged with perjury in part for lying to a grand jury about the Barbecue of the Documents. But, more important, the material on the disk turned out to be a “road map” of the Ryan-Fawell scandals, prosecutors said, including memos and records about state employees’ working for campaigns, internal investigations quashed, and a 555-page favors list kept by Fawell that was like an index to clout in the state—and a stark example of the way Fawell played the game.
Fawell and Prokos were reportedly on vacation together in Hawaii in April 2002 on the day he was indicted for his activities in the secretary of state’s office. (Joan filed for divorce five days later.) The federal government accused Fawell of a “pervasive pattern of fraud and corruption” over his seven years as the chief of staff in the secretary of state’s office and an officer of George Ryan’s campaign fund. “Public funds were stolen and plundered for political benefit,” U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said at a press conference announcing the charges. Fawell’s aide Richard Juliano was also charged, as was Ryan’s campaign operation. (This was only the third time in history that a campaign committee had faced federal charges of criminal misconduct.)
Fawell’s lawyer, Ed Genson, previewed the defense immediately. “My client is being penalized for something that happens in Illinois politics every day,” Genson said. “The poor guy is being indicted for helping his mom. How many prosecutors have helped their moms?”
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The trial in January 2003 turned into a political soap opera. Fawell, who by now was reportedly living with Andrea and her two children, arrived at the courthouse each day with his trademark grin. During breaks, he joked with reporters. The trial rolled on for eight weeks in all, exposing just how deep the rot around Ryan and Fawell went.
When it came time for closing arguments, Genson accused the government’s witnesses of rolling over on Fawell to save themselves, calling them the “Let’s Make a Deal Gang.” But his message that witnesses made up stories implicating Fawell to save themselves did not square with the more central theme of his defense, which was that Fawell should not be selectively prosecuted for behavior that is ritualistic in Illinois. “The argument the prosecutors make attacks the system, and Scott is the person they’re blaming it on,” Genson said. “The political system is no longer politically correct, and he’s the fall guy.”
The jury forewoman, Lynda Filipello, would later say, “[Fawell] had one focus in life: ‘I got to get my guy to win.’”
After the trial, Fawell told reporters, “I know what happened. I can live with myself very easily.”
Six weeks later, when he appeared before Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer for sentencing, he appeared to be suffering an attack of remorse. “Unfortunately, this experience I have suffered through has left a black mark on my family’s name,” Fawell said, reading a prepared statement as he broke down in tears. “More importantly, I would like to express my regret for the actions I took that were the subject of this case. I am a very competitive person with a single-minded focus on my goals. Although I didn’t realize some things I did or that I allowed to be done were violations of the law, I guess I should have.”
Too overwhelmed to go on, Fawell let Genson finish the statement. “‘I was so single-minded in my purpose I sometimes did not think clearly,’” Genson read. “‘Certainly, a number of things I did were violations of the law. Clearly, I committed acts that were wrong. Believe me, your Honor, my acts were the result of blindness, thoughtlessness, and were never meant as acts of malice.’”
The prosecution asked for 11 years. The defense asked for four years and nine months. Pallmeyer sentenced Fawell to six and a half years. While Pallmeyer said that prosecutors did not prove that Fawell should have known about rampant corruption in the licensing facilities, she also rejected the notion that he did not realize that many of his actions in other regards were illegal. A key piece of evidence on that score, she said, was the memo found on the Zip disk about getting rid of internal investigators.
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Fawell’s cockiness seemed to have returned when he spoke to reporters again outside the courtroom after he was sentenced. “If I would have sat there and said, ‘I’m going to go in and tell stories about George Ryan,’ would I have gone through this? No. I think there’s absolutely no doubt,” Fawell said. “But you know what? I have to live with myself somewhere along the line, too. I’m not sitting on any bomb of George Ryan’s. I am not going to go in there and make up stories about him just to save myself. Unfortunately, that’s the game they like you to play. That’s the game people played with me. They told stories that were untrue.”
Fawell alluded to having regrets, but added, “It’s a pretty rough-and-tumble business—always has been, always will be. I wish I could go back and change some of the things I did. But do I consider myself a criminal? Absolutely not. I made some bad decisions and I have to live with those consequences now.”
So does Andrea Prokos. In May 2003, she was indicted on eight counts of perjury for lying to a grand jury even though she had been granted immunity. Over the summer, as Fawell awaited sentencing and then prepared for prison, he and Andrea reportedly stayed together; they were even spotted on the Kiss Cam at a White Sox game.
In November, he reported to prison, a minimum-security facility in Yankton, South Dakota. The federal prison camp, as it is called, was once a college campus. The camp is surrounded by a chest-high wrought-iron fence. What was once the student union is now the visiting room. Fawell regularly receives visits from his mother, Beverly, who reports, “He’s doing OK.” She says he lives in a dorm room with five other men. The 700 prisoners are mostly white-collar criminals—doctors, lawyers, and other nonviolent offenders. Fawell works a 12-hour shift as a cook every third day. “He really wasn’t much of a cook at home,” Beverly says, “but I guess they’re teaching him.”
Like most prisoners, Fawell also has a regular workout regimen—a couple of hours at a time, a couple of times a day. He also reads five daily newspapers and subscribes to several magazines. “He’s trying to pass the time,” Beverly says.
Fawell can still appeal his conviction, but it is possible that he won’t. Beverly says that money is tight and that she offered to take a second mortgage on her home to finance an appeal, but Scott was vehemently opposed to that idea. He still has to defend himself on the McPier bid-rigging charges as well.
So far, it appears that Fawell has resisted any entreaties to make a better deal for himself and cooperate in the case against Ryan, who is expected to go to trial next year. “For whatever reason,” says Rod McCulloch, a veteran Republican consultant, “Scott Fawell would run through a brick wall for George Ryan.”
About a month after Fawell reported to prison, Andrea agreed to plead guilty to perjury and cooperate with authorities in exchange for leniency. Sentencing is scheduled for late May. Her cooperation led in part to the newer McPier charges against Fawell. But Beverly says it would not be wise to assume there had been a falling out between Andrea and Scott.
On the contrary, she says. They’re engaged.